If the eye disease affecting the cornea (the clear front surface of your eye) is too severe, we may need to replace the cornea with a donor cornea.
We call this a corneal transplant procedure (also called cornea grafting or keratoplasty).
Severe keratoconus is one possible reason for corneal transplant surgery. But we also use this procedure to treat corneal dystrophies and corneal scarring (possibly as a result of injury, swelling or infection of the cornea).
We typically perform corneal transplants to help restore the vision. But we can also use it to improve comfort and appearance.
In a corneal transplant operation, the surgeon replaces all or part of the damaged cornea with healthy donor corneal tissue.
Corneal transplant surgery is generally very safe and effective. The procedure has been performed and perfected by our surgeons over many years. The operation is usually done under general anaesthetic, so you won’t feel any pain or discomfort. You’ll also be able to go home soon after surgery, without the need to stay overnight in hospital.
Before considering a corneal transplant for keratoconus, your surgeon may recommend another treatment instead. New treatments for keratoconus such as corneal collagen cross-linking and corneal implants are highly effective and involve less risk. You can discuss all of your treatment options for keratoconus when you make an appointment with one of our eye specialists.
Before your surgery, it’s important not to eat or drink for at least 6 hours. The anaesthetist will give you a general anaesthetic, so you’ll be asleep throughout the procedure. In some cases, we may use a local anaesthetic or sedation instead.
In most cases, your surgeon will use a highly specialised instrument called a ‘trephine’ to precisely remove your cornea. In some operations, we may only need to replace the front or back part of the cornea.
We will then suture the donor cornea in place with extremely fine stitches.
After the operation, we will place an eye pad and protective shield over your eye, and you’ll be able to go home as soon as your anaesthetic has worn off. You should ask someone to stay with you overnight, and you’ll need to come back for a check-up the following day.
Full recovery from cornea grafting can take some time. It usually takes 12 to 18 months to achieve your best possible vision, and you’ll need regular check-ups during that time. Suppose you suffer from severe keratoconus or another corneal condition that affects your sight. In that case, cornea grafting is often a very worthwhile and effective operation.
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As part of his ophthalmology specialty training, Dr Dunne gained valuable experience in major centres such as Auckland and Wellington, with a final two years undertaking Medical Retina advanced training based at the Greenlane Eye Clinic in Auckland. LEARN MORE
Corneal blindness is one of the major causes of reversible blindness, which can be managed with transplantation of a healthy donor cornea. It is the most successful organ transplantation in the human body as cornea is devoid of vasculature, minimizing the risk of graft rejection. Click here to read more.
Rejection of the corneal graft is the most common complication and occurs in about 1 in 7 patients at any time after the operation. It happens when your body detects a piece of tissue from another person and your immune system then tries to destroy it. Often it can be treated but sometimes a further corneal graft operation is required. Click here to read more.