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Corneal Transplant
What is it? Overview Usage Side Effects and Warnings

Corneal Transplant Overview

Written by FoundHealth.


This is a surgical procedure used to replace a portion of a diseased or damaged cornea with a healthy one. The cornea is the clear, outer surface on the front of the eye. The surgery is done by an ophthalmologist, a doctor who specializes in treating eye problems.

Cornea of the Eye
Cornea of the Eye
© 2009 Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

What to Expect

Prior to Procedure

Your ophthalmologist may do the following:

  • Physical exam
  • Blood tests

Before the procedure:

  • Talk to your doctor about your medicines. Also, discuss any herbs or vitamins you take. You may be asked to stop taking some medicines up to one week before the procedure, like:
  • Aspirin or other anti-inflammatory drugs
  • Blood thinners, such as clopidogrel (Plavix) or warfarin (Coumadin)
  • Arrange to have someone drive you home.
  • Arrange for help at home after the procedure.
  • Use any eye drops as instructed by your ophthalmologist.
  • The day before, do not eat or drink anything after midnight (unless told otherwise by your doctor).


Two types of anesthesia can be used during a corneal transplant:

  • Local anesthesia (most commonly used) to numb the eye—You will stay awake.
  • General anesthesia —You will be asleep.

Description of Procedure

The procedure will be done under a surgical microscope. The damaged part of the cornea will be cut out. The new cornea will then be placed in the opening. The new cornea will be fastened with very fine stitches. Finally, a patch and shield will be put over the eye.

There is a newer technique, called Descemet's stripping endothelial keratoplasty (DSEK). DSEK is used for some types of cornea transplants. It may result in shorter recovery time and better vision. With this technique, the doctor removes a much smaller part of the cornea, compared with older procedures. DSEK is not widely available yet in the US, but it is becoming more popular.

How Long Will It Take?

1-2 hours

How Much Will It Hurt?

Anesthesia prevents pain during surgery. You may have slight soreness for a few days after the procedure. Ask your doctor about medicine to help with the pain.

Average Hospital Stay

You will most likely go home after a few hours in the recovery area.

Post-procedure Care

At Home

After you leave the hospital, you should rest for the remainder of the day. When you return home after the procedure, do the following to help ensure a smooth recovery:

  • Continue to wear the eye patch until your doctor instructs you to remove it.
  • Use eye drops as prescribed.
  • Wear glasses during the day, and wear a shield to protect your eye at night.
  • Protect your eye from accidental bumps or pokes.
  • Do not rub or press on your eye.
  • Do not swim until allowed by your doctor.
  • Avoid contact sports.
  • Do not drive until your doctor gives you permission.
  • Be sure to follow your doctor's instructions .

Your eye will be checked several times during the following weeks and months. Stitches are usually left in place for at least several months.



Eye Bank Association of America

The National Keratoconus Foundation


The Canadian National Institute for the Blind

Canadian Ophthalmological Society


Cornea transplant: transplant surgery—what to expect. National Keratoconus Foundation website. Available at: . Accessed September 7, 2005.

Corneal surgery. The University of Mississippi Medical Center Department of Ophthalmology Services website. Available at: . Accessed September 8, 2005.

Corneal transplantation. Cole Eye Institute website. Available at: . Accessed September 1, 2005.

Facts about the cornea and corneal disease. The National Eye Institute at the National Institutes of Health website. Available at: . Accessed September 7, 2005.

Frequently asked questions. Eye Bank Association of America website. Available at: . Accessed September 8, 2005.

Medical encyclopedia: corneal transplant. National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health Medline Plus website. Available at: . Accessed September 1, 2005.

New advance in cornea transplantation. Duke Health website. Available at: . Updated April 21, 2006. Accessed November 6, 2009.

Partial-thickness cornea transplant (DSAEK). Mayo Clinic website. Available at: . Accessed November 6, 2009.

Retinal detachment. SUNY State College of Optometry website. Available at: . Accessed September 8, 2005.

Sutphin J. Eye donor awareness: frequently asked questions. University of Iowa’s Virtual Hospital website. Available at: . Accessed September 7, 2005.

What happens during corneal transplant surgery? Wills Eye Hospital website. Available at: . Accessed September 8, 2005.



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