The National Eye/Cornea Donor and Recipients Month is sponsored by the Eye Bank Association of America (EBAA).
What is a Corneal Transplant?
A corneal transplant is removing your damaged or diseased cornea and replacing it with a donor cornea (from someone who has passed on and donated their organs). Corneal transplants are the most common and most successful transplant done in the USA. The donor cornea is processed through the Eye Bank and strict national criteria and found to be negative of any diseases as well as tests done to make sure the donor cornea is good quality tissue for surgery.
There are different types of corneal transplants depending on what part of your cornea is damaged. The two most common types are a full-thickness transplant (PKP or penetrating keratoplasty) or partial thickness transplant of the inside layer (EK – endothelial keratoplasty, also known as DSEK, DSAEK, DMEK). Another type is anterior keratoplasty (DALK) which is also partial thickness.
Why would someone need a Corneal Transplant?
The Cornea is a five-layered tissue which is normally clear without any blood vessels. Most of the time, mild corneal diseases can be treated with medications and careful monitoring. A corneal transplant can be done for any disease that makes the cornea cloudy, impairs the light from going into the eye and blurring the vision. Together, you and your doctor will decide the best course of action for your vision.
What are some common cornea diseases?
Dry eye syndrome
Corneal ulcer, scars
Trauma to the cornea
Keratoconus is a corneal ectasia or thinning of the cornea where it protrudes out at an apex. Early stages can be treated with glasses or contact lenses. More advanced stages may require special contact lenses or Intacs surgery in addition. Collagen cross-linking is a new treatment under FDA trials that can stabilize advanced disease. If the thinning and scarring are advanced, then a corneal transplant may be necessary.
Fuchs’ dystrophy is a hereditary condition affecting the inside layer of the cornea. The inside layer is made up of pump cells whose job is to keep the cornea clear. These cells degenerate as we get older. In people with Fuchs’ dystrophy, the pump cells degenerate faster than normal. When they do not work fast enough, the cornea becomes swollen with fluid and cloudy and can have painful blisters on the surface of the eye. A partial thickness endothelial keratoplasty can replace the pump cells and restore cornea clarity and vision.
What are the risks associated with a corneal transplant?
The risks associated with eye surgery are low, usually less than 1%. Bleeding and infection are risks common to all surgery. Other risks specific to the eye include cataract formation (if you have not had your cataract removed), glaucoma, retinal swelling or detachment. Risks specific to corneal transplant include rejection (just like any other organ transplant), inflammation, and failure (for which you may need another transplant). Careful coordination of care leads to the best chance of success.
What is a Cornea Specialist?
A cornea specialist has done additional training in diseases and surgery of the cornea. Clinical practice includes all of comprehensive ophthalmology like cataract, glaucoma, and diabetes care as well as corneal diseases.
Why is it important to donate your eyes when you pass on?
A donated eye can be used for a transplant procedure, specifically a corneal transplant. The cornea is the front clear part of the eye that covers the colored iris and dark round pupil.