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Corneal Transplant

What is a Corneal Transplant?

The cornea is a dome-shaped tissue that serves as the outermost layer of the eye. It acts as a natural protector of the rest of the eye, keeping debris and particles from invading its deeper layers. In addition, it distributes light through the pupil to the rest of the eye, acting almost as a “window.” These important functions make the cornea an irreplaceable part of the eye.

Unfortunately, the position of the cornea makes it vulnerable to significant infection and harm. Concerns such as scarring, swelling, or injury to the cornea can impair vision and cause pain. In such cases, our board-certified ophthalmologists can perform a corneal transplant with donated tissue. Surgical strategies vary based on the particular cause or area of damage, but on the whole, corneal transplant surgery has proven highly successful in easing discomfort and restoring overall function to the eye.

Who Is a Good Candidate for Corneal Transplant?

A corneal transplant can repair damage to a cornea that has suffered from:

Corneal transplants are considered a safe procedure when performed by a qualified surgeon, and few patients are deemed ineligible for this surgery. That said, one of our ophthalmologists will examine you before moving forward with the procedure to determine both your candidacy and the precise area of concern. If you suffer from glaucoma, your surgeon may suggest a separate treatment, such as Argon laser trabeculoplasty (ALT), be performed before you proceed with corneal transplant to avoid complications.

What Are the Different Types of Corneal Surgery?

Because a corneal transplant is tailored to specifically address the patient’s needs, a number of different approaches exist. The surgery can either directly address the cornea as a whole or focus on one of its five layers (particularly the external-facing epithelium, or the endothelium, which lines the inner corneal surface).

Penetrating Keratoplasty

Penetrating keratoplasty (PK) involves the replacement of the cornea with a graft from a human donor. The most traditional method, a typical PK surgery will include the removal of the damaged tissue before the replacement is attached with sutures. Note that tissue rejection, in which the replacement is not compatible with the rest of the eye tissue, is a possible complication in PK surgeries; however, an experienced ophthalmologist will prevent this issue to the best of their ability.


DSAEK, or Descemet’s Stripping Automated Endothelial Keratoplasty, is what’s called a partial-thickness corneal transplant. In this procedure, Dr. Sumsion replaces only the thin endothelial layer of the cornea with donor endothelial tissue. This procedure typically allows for faster healing when compared to a full corneal transplant, resulting in a faster return of vision. Since the majority of the original cornea is kept in place, DSAEK involves less risk of tissue rejection.

Generally, your corneal transplant will take place as an outpatient procedure with local anesthesia.

What Is Recovery from Corneal Transplant Surgery Like?

As the recovery process following corneal transplant depends on the specifics of the surgery itself, our ophthalmologists create personalized aftercare plans for each patient. You may be prescribed eye drops, which you should take as directed. Additionally, we recommend that patients avoid touching or rubbing the surgical area as it heals.

Although most patients are able to resume daily activities soon after the surgery, we ask that you find someone to drive you to our office, as blurriness is to be expected initially. Soreness is also common immediately following surgery, but can be treated with over-the-counter pain medications.

How Much Does a Corneal Transplant Cost?

The cost of corneal transplant surgery will depend on the extent of work done to the eye, anesthesia and hospital fees, and more. As stated earlier, we invite each patient to come in for a consultation before their procedure, during which we will discuss the plan for surgery and go over financial options. Please note that we accept all major credit cards and work with CareCredit®, a third-party lender that can help arrange flexible payment plans for several conditions and treatments. We are also happy to speak with insurance providers where applicable.

If you believe you are in need of a corneal transplant, please contact Riverside EyeCare Professionals today.