If you have severe damage to your cornea (the clear front layer of your eye), doctors can replace the damaged part with healthy corneal tissue from a donor.

If you have scarring or other damage that affects the whole cornea, doctors can do a full thickness corneal transplant (called a penetrating keratoplasty). If only part of your cornea is damaged, doctors can do a partial thickness transplant (called a lamellar keratoplasty).

What happens during a corneal transplant?

You may get general anesthesia to put you to sleep during the transplant surgery, or you may be awake. If you’re awake, your doctor will put medicine in your eye to make it numb and give you another medicine to help you relax.

Your doctor will use a special tool to keep your eye open during surgery. They will remove the damaged part of your cornea and replace it with healthy donor tissue.

How long does it take to recover?

Corneal transplant is an outpatient surgery, so you can go home the same day. You won’t be able to drive, so you’ll need someone to give you a ride home after surgery.

You’ll need a follow-up appointment the day after surgery to check how your eye is healing.

After surgery, you’ll need to take steps to help your eye recover:

  • Use special eye drops prescribed by your doctor
  • Avoid rubbing or pressing on your eye
  • Wear eyeglasses or a special shield to protect your eye

Depending on the type of transplant, it can take up to a year to fully recover. Talk with your doctor about when you can get back to your normal activities.

woman getting an eye exam

When to get help right away

Cornea rejection can cause:

  • Eye pain
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Red eyes
  • Cloudy or hazy vision

If you have these symptoms after a corneal transplant, tell your eye doctor right away.

Are there any side effects?

Like any surgery, corneal transplant surgery has risks. One major risk is tissue rejection, when your body sees the new cornea as a foreign object and tries to get rid of it. Your doctor can give you medicine to help stop the rejection and save your cornea.

Corneal transplant can also cause other eye problems, including:

If you have tissue rejection or other severe problems with your new cornea, you may need another transplant. Talk with your doctor about the risks of corneal transplant and whether this treatment is right for you.

Last updated: July 5, 2019