February 16, 2020

Understanding Corneal Transplants


Read the full NZ Herald article here

A corneal transplant is an eye surgery which uses donated corneal tissue to fix a cornea that is either damaged, or needs to be removed due to disease. This operation, also called corneal grafting, can be a major procedure. After all, the cornea is a delicate thing to replace—it’s the transparent area at the front of your eye.

A corneal transplant can be used to treat many conditions, including keratoconus (a bulging of the front of the eye) and vision loss due to scarring on the front surface of the eye. It’s a complex procedure, but our experts explain the basics here. 

Why undergo corneal transplant surgery?

The clear tissue that makes up the cornea exists for light to pass through into the pupil so we can see. The cornea is optically clear but might lose this clarity through a process of infection, injury, degenerative conditions or hereditary diseases. Any scarring to the cornea can impair vision. 

Corneal transplantation is usually performed with the patient anaesthetised and is an ideal way to remove scarred or optically imperfect corneal tissue and replace it with new corneal tissue. 

Types of corneal transplant surgery

There is more than one type of corneal transplant. The most common—penetrating Keratopathy (PKP)—has actually been in use for over a century. This type of corneal transplant involves the entire cornea, and requires removal of its entire thickness. 

Newer types of corneal grafting, like Descement’s membrane endothelial keratoplasty (DMEK), and Descement’s stripping automated endothelial keratoplasty (DSAEK), don’t remove the whole cornea. Instead, they may only replace the top layers of it. Both procedures require regular follow-up checks, to ensure that everything is healing as normal. 

In 2020 most corneal transplant surgeries aim to selectively replace the layer of the cornea that is diseased and retain as much normal corneal tissue as possible. No matter which version of the treatment a patient undergoes, it’s likely that their vision will continue to get better for a period of weeks and months afterwards.

Corneal transplants at Re:Vision Sight Correction Centre

We can perform corneal transplants with the help of either local or general anaesthetic. In both cases, there is no need for an overnight stay, so patients are able to leave only an hour or two after the surgery is complete.

Typically, once we’ve used precise tools to remove the unwanted area of the cornea, the donor cornea is prepared to fit the exact gap, and then stitched with fine sutures. Sometimes, no stitches are needed at all. 

After the surgery, we place protective eye pads over the eye in question, and release a patient once the anaesthetic has worn off. A follow-up appointment will be booked for the next day.

Still got questions?

It’s our job to make things clear, so if you’ve got any outstanding questions, we’ll be happy to answer them. Whether you need to ask about corneal transplant surgery or another procedure, get in touch today!

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