A cornea transplant or keratoplasty involves replacing the corneal tissue. The cornea is essential for the eye’s ability to focus and maintain vision. When a cornea transplant is successful, it can help restore a person’s vision. It also helps reduce pain because of damage or disease of the cornea. According to the Eye Bank Association of America, in 2008 there were more than 41,000 cornea transplants performed annually in the United States alone (See Reference 1). The recovery from a corneal transplant depends on precautions taken after the surgery.
Cornea transplants carry some risk of complications, such as eye infection, clouding of the eye, an increase in pressure, rejection of the donor eye and the swelling of the cornea. In some cases, there may be an immune response where the donor’s body rejects the eye transplant.
Recovering and Medication
When the cornea transplant procedure is finished, a physician will include both eye drops and oral medication, including antibiotics to control infection, pain medicine and anti-inflammatory medication to reduce swelling. Steroid drops are prescribed for several months after the cornea transplant to reduce risk of rejection.
Protection and Recovery Time
The surgeon will place a metal eye shield and a gauze patch to protect the eye. The gauze also applies pressure to the eye and reduces some swelling. This eye shield is used for the first few days after the surgery, which is then reduced to nighttime only for several days.
Precautions and Recovery
There will be lifetime precautions necessary to protect the eye from injury. A cornea transplant requires some limitations in activity. Wearing safety glasses and eye protection during exercise and other sport activities can help limit your risk. In order to promote optimal healing after a corneal transplant, heavy exercise and lifting are not allowed. Such activity can prevent recovery and put the transplant at risk.
Follow-Up and Recovery
Follow-up exams will be required to check for complications. During the first year following the corneal transplant, regular exams normally occur weekly and then monthly. The stitches are removed three to 17 months after the transplant. The surgeon will determine when to remove the stitches based on the rate of healing and the overall health of the eye. During this period, changes might be made to the sutures to help reduce astigmatism caused by an irregular eye surface.
Vision and Recovery Time
Although some vision can be restored immediately after the surgery, it can take several months for a person’s vision to improve completely. Depending on a person’s healing capability and physical factors, the cornea may take several months to completely heal. It can take more than a year for a patient to recover from a cornea transplant.