What is meant by Corneal Transplant?
A cornea transplant is a surgery which aims at the removal of the full or partial cornea followed by replacement of the damaged cornea with a healthy donor cornea. A cornea transplant is also called keratoplasty. It is also referred to as corneal graft. The surgery helps in the improvement of eyesight, and treatment of severe corneal damage. A condition called keratoconus, in which the cornea changes shape, also calls for a transplant.
What is the role of the cornea in our eyesight?
The cornea is the transparent outermost layer of the eye that exists in the front portion of the eyeball. We can see the colored iris and the pupil (the black dot situated in the center of the iris) through the cornea.
The cornea plays a significant role in focusing light rays on the retina. The retina is a light-sensitive organ situated at the back of the eye. It is here that the formation of the picture viewed by the eye occurs. The picture so formed is then transmitted to the brain.
If the cornea incurs damage, it loses its degree of transparency. It may also change its shape. As a result, the light is prevented from reaching the retina, leading to the formation of the distorted or blurred image.
When can I return to work after the transplant?
You will have to take good care of your eyes after the transplant. Your surgeon will give you instructions regarding the same when you are being discharged. You will have to take care of the following issue –
- Avoid rubbing your eyes
- Avoid strenuous exercise and lifting heavy weights for a few weeks
- If your job doesn’t require physical strain, you can return to it within 2 to 3 weeks of surgery
- If your job requires heavy manual labor, then it is recommended that you should wait for 3 to 4 months
- Avoid going to smoky or dusty places as they can irritate your eyes
- Wearing sunglasses is recommended if your eyes are sensitive to light.
- You should avoid contact sports and activities like swimming till the doctor gives you a green signal. It is advised that you wear protective goggles when you resume the contact sports.
- Be careful that water does not get in your eye while taking a bath. This has to be kept in mind for a month after the surgery.
Will my eye color change after surgery?
As the color of the eye is dependent on the iris, which will remain the same during the surgery, there will not be any change in the eye color even if you have your cornea replaced. Cornea is a clear transparent layer of the eye, so the question of any change in color does not arise. There is also no need for the donor and the recipient corneas to match. The only requirement is that the cornea should be healthy and come from a person who is not affected by HIV, hepatitis or any other infection. Though matching is not required, the new cornea may be rejected by the body. It will react by showing redness in the eye, vision loss, pain, and increased light sensitivity. Anti-rejection medication is used to avoid such a condition from happening but it may be rendered ineffective in some cases. If these medicines fail to work, the person may require a new transplant. About 20 % of cases show corneal tissue rejection and hostile body response to the newly transplanted corneal tissue.
What precautions would I require after the surgery?
After the procedure has been done, you will have to incorporate quite a few things in your lifestyle to protect and take care of your eyes. The surgeon will give a list of instructions and care tips when you are being discharged after the surgery. Here is what to expect –
Take medications-The doctor will tell you to use eyedrops and oral medications immediately after a cornea transplant. They are likely to be continued during the recovery period to help alleviate the chances of having infection, swelling, and pain in the eyes.
Wear an eye patch-An eye patch will be given to you, which should be worn by you to protect your eye from infection and injury after the surgery.
Protect your eyes-You will have to take good care of your eyes after the surgery. The resumption of daily activities should be done on a gradual basis. Incorporate the activities slowly. Even strenuous exercises or heavy lifting should be avoided for some days. You will need to follow some tips throughout your life so that your eyes remain safe.
Follow-up exams– You will have to visit your doctor frequently as there can be eye complications in the first year after surgery.
What is the duration of the surgery?
Although the surgery takes less time, expect to be in the operating room for at least 1-2 hours.
Which level of discomfort will I have to put up with?
Expect redness in the eyes along with irritation and sensitivity to light. You may also encounter tearing and a slight discharge from the operated area. The surgeon will give you Tylenol or another brand that contains acetaminophen during the initial period after surgery.
Will I require an eye patch?
Yes, your eye will be covered with a patch along with a metal shield on the D-day. They will most probably be removed when your follow-up appointment takes place the next day. You will also be required to wear an eye patch/shield while sleeping for some days after surgery.
Will the surgery leave sutures or stitches in the eye?
Mostly, sutures will be there, but they will be so minute that you will not take notice. The surgeon will remove some sutures after one month of surgery. Other sutures may remain there for several years.