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Your corneas help focus light that enters your eyes by bending it. They also protect your eyes from dust, germs and other particles and filter out ultraviolet rays from sunlight. Damage to one or both corneas can affect your ability to see clearly. If you have vision problems due to a damaged cornea, having a corneal transplant might help.

What Is a Corneal Transplant?

A corneal transplant involves surgically removing the cornea and replacing it with donated tissue. This surgical procedure helps improve vision in those with corneal problems, such as scarring, cloudiness or thinning. Corneal transplants known as penetrating keratoplasty involve removing a small part of the cornea that includes all five layers of tissue and attaching the donated tissue in its place. There is also a less invasive procedure known as lamellar keratoplasty, which involves replacing the inner layer and outer layer of the cornea instead of each layer.

When Is a Corneal Transplant Recommended?

Your eye doctor might recommend a corneal transplant if you have vision problems due to keratoconus or another condition that causes your cornea to become thinner. You might also need a transplant if one or both corneas have scars due to previous injuries or infections. Corneal transplants might also be recommended if you have vision loss due to cloudy corneas caused by Fuchs’ dystrophy or a similar condition.

Corneal transplants can help restore your vision, although you might need to use corrective lenses afterwards. This surgical procedure can also help ease pain associated with eye diseases and other conditions that affect the cornea. Your eye doctor might recommend this procedure if you have vision loss or if you are in considerable pain.

What Are the Risks?

Before deciding whether or not to have this type of surgery done, it’s important to be aware of the risks associated with it. Keep in mind that corneal transplants are considered safe procedures, but there are always risks involved with any type of surgery. For corneal transplants, risks include eye infections, a higher risk of developing cataracts or glaucoma, swelling in the cornea and complications with stitches. Your body might also reject the donated tissue, which can cause sensitivity to light, pain, vision loss or redness. This happens in roughly 20 percent of all corneal transplants, according to the Mayo Clinic.

If you have a condition that affects your cornea and your ability to see, such as scarring, thinning, ulcers, clouding or bulging, discuss treatment options with your eye doctor. Your doctor can help you determine whether a corneal transplant is right for you.