What you can expect

By Mayo Clinic Staff

During your cornea transplant

On the day of your cornea transplant, you'll be given a sedative to help you relax and a local anesthetic to numb your eye. You won't be asleep during the surgery, but you shouldn't feel any pain.

During the most common type of cornea transplant (penetrating keratoplasty), your surgeon cuts through the entire thickness of the abnormal or diseased cornea to remove a small button-sized disc of corneal tissue. An instrument that acts like a cookie cutter (trephine) is used to make this precise circular cut.

The donor cornea, cut to fit, is placed in the opening. Your surgeon then uses a fine thread to stitch the new cornea into place. The stitches may be removed at a later visit when you see your eye doctor.

Procedures to transplant a portion of the cornea

With some types of cornea problems, a full-thickness cornea transplant isn't always the best treatment. Partial-thickness (lamellar) transplants may be used in certain situations. These types of procedures include:

  • Replacing the inner layer of the cornea. This procedure, called a deep lamellar transplant, replaces only the innermost layer of your cornea's five layers. A small incision is made in the side of your eyeball to allow for removal of your cornea's inner layer without damaging the outer layers. A donor graft replaces the removed portion.
  • Replacing the surface layers of the cornea. The outer layers of the cornea that have been damaged by certain diseases and conditions can be replaced using a procedure called surface lamellar transplant. These surface layers, too, can be removed and replaced with a donor graft.

After your cornea transplant

Once your cornea transplant is completed, you can expect to:

  • Receive several medications. Eyedrops and, occasionally, oral medications immediately after cornea transplant and continuing during your recovery will help control infection, swelling and pain.
  • Wear an eye patch. An eye patch may protect your eye as it heals after your surgery.
  • Protect your eye from injury. Plan to take it easy after your cornea transplant, and slowly work your way up to your normal activities, including exercise. For the rest of your life, you'll need to take extra precautions to avoid harming your eye.
  • Return for frequent follow-up exams. Expect frequent eye exams in which your doctor looks for complications in the first year after surgery.
Jun. 28, 2014