So, you want to know if corneal transplant surgery is in your near future. There are many reasons that opthalmologists recommend corneal transplant, but understanding what makes you a good candidate, what benefits come of it, and what is involved in the procedure can make the thought far less frightening.
The first step is to determine whether or not you need to have the procedure done. This not very common eye surgery is used to treat a variety of conditions, but all relate to the cornea. The thin, delicate component of the eye is used to filter light to the back, where the retina and optic nerve can take over. When working properly, the eye sends meaningful messages to the brain, which are interpreted into clear images. However, if the cornea is scratched, bulging, scarred, or otherwise damaged, the light is not reflected correctly and the brain receives a jumbled mess.
Cataract surgeons will generally recommend this procedure for anyone who suffers from keratoconus (bulging of the cornea), thinning, scarring, clouding, or swelling of this integral part of the eye. Corneal ulcers and complication as a result of previous surgeries can also lead to the need for transplant.
The good news is that this surgery is becoming very common and, as a result, doctors can give an accurate list of potential complications and are better able to prevent them. Included on the list of risks are the very rare occurrence of eye infection, increased risk of cataract, increased eye pressure, rejection of the donor tissue, and swelling of the cornea. Your ophthalmologist should provide you a list of signs or symptoms to watch for in the days after the procedure. This will likely include any changes to vision, pain, redness, or sudden sensitivity to light, which may be signs of potential rejection. This occurs when the body looks at the donor tissue as a dangerous, foreign substance. The immune system attacks as a defense. Rejection can occur in up to twenty percent of cases.
In order to determine if you are an acceptable candidate for the procedure, the doctor will perform a thorough eye exam, will take specific measurements, and will look over your medical history. Diabetic patients may need to speak to a diabetic eye specialist regarding the potential for increased risk.
If it is decided that you are healthy enough to undergo the procedure, another appointment will be set. Before the doctor begins, you will be given a sedative and a local anesthetic. Once numb and relaxed, the surgeon will begin the task of creating a very precise incision (with the help of a specialized piece of medical equipment) in order to remove the affected corneal tissue. Then, the donor corneal tissue is fit in place and secured with ultra thin stitches. In some cases, only a single layer of the cornea will have to be removed and, in those cases, the goal will be to preserve as much of the original tissue as possible.
The entire process happens very quickly and healing time is relatively short as well. With proper care and follow up visits, the vast majority of corneal transplant patients see tremendous improvement.