Types of Corneal Transplants


What Is a Corneal Transplant?

A corneal transplant is a surgical procedure to remove all or part of the diseased or injured cornea and replace it with a similarly sized and shaped part of a healthy donor cornea. Here you can explore different types of corneal transplants and other important factors of corneal transplantation and treatment.

Types of Corneal Transplants

In penetrating or full-thickness transplants, surgeons remove the entire diseased or injured cornea from the recipient and replace it with a healthy donor cornea. In this procedure, the surgeon sews sutures onto the graft to ensure proper placement of the tissue. Usually, they place a rigid hard contact lens over the graft to simulate better visual potential during the first months post-transplant.

Anterior Lamellar Keratoplasty

Anterior Lamellar Keratoplasty transplants replace only a section of the diseased or injured cornea instead of the entire cornea such as when a Deep Anterior Lamellar Keratoplasty (DALK) surgery is performed. In this type of procedure, surgeons replace only the front part of the recipient cornea and not the entire cornea. Because only a section of recipient corneal tissue is removed, the risk of rejection is less likely and the eye is less vulnerable to injury and infection.

Endothelial Lamellar Keratoplasty:

Endothelial Lamellar Keratoplasty occurs when the recipient’s outer cornea is rather healthy; however, the most posterior layer (corneal endothelium) is diseased or injured. In this procedure, the surgeon removes only the recipient’s endothelial layer (the back 10%) portion of the cornea and replaces it with the back 10% of the healthy donor cornea. The remaining 90% of the recipient’s cornea remains intact. This procedure is termed Deep Endothelial Lamellar Keratoplasty (DELK). This procedure requires no sutures to keep it in place, allowing the recipient’s graft to heal much quicker. Less chance of infection or rejection occurs and less induced astigmatism occurs. Surgeons often use DELK as a treatment for Keratoconus.

When Do you Need a Corneal Transplant?

Most people experience some form of blurriness, cloudiness, loss of eyesight, or other difficulties with their eyes. You may find yourself squinting frequently and unable to see the same level of detail you had before. 

Surgeons perform corneal transplantations for several reasons, including the following:

  • Optical: To improve the optical qualities of the cornea to improve vision. The surgeon replaces a scarred cornea with a healthy, clear one.
  • Reconstructive: To reconstruct a perforated cornea to preserve the eye in its whole form.
  • Therapeutic: To treat a disease unresponsive to medical management such as uncontrolled fungal corneal ulcers or to alleviate the pain of a severe foreign-body sensation due to recurrent ruptured blister-like lesions in Bullous Keratopathy.

Common Indicators for Transplantation

These are some of the most common underlying health conditions that would require a corneal transplant:

  • Bullous Keratopathy
  • Fuchs’ Endothelial Dystrophy 
  • Keratoconus
  • Repeat Graft
  • Keratitis
  • Viral or Bacterial Problems 
  • Fungal Ulcers
  • Perforations, and 
  • Corneal Stromal Dystrophies

Surgical Techniques for Corneal Transplants

Corneal transplants can be performed using general or local anesthetic plus intravenous sedation. To prepare the tissue for the most common of transplants, Penetrating Keratoplasty, the surgeon removes a corneal button from the central part of the donor cornea using an instrument called a trephine. To create the recipient bed to receive the donor corneal button, the surgeon removes the central 60 to 80% of the host cornea using similar instruments. The donor corneal button, which is trephined slightly larger than the recipient bed, is then sutured in place.

What Can I Expect After a Corneal Transplant?

Post-Operative Treatment

Recipients use post-operative medications for several weeks and topical steroids for several months. In some cases, there may be corneal transplant complications where corneal astigmatism occurs. However, that can be reduced by suture adjustment or the removal of selected sutures. In many patients, the surgeon places a rigid contact lens over the corneal transplant to simulate the smooth, glossy surface of a healthy cornea. To protect the eye from inadvertent trauma after transplantation, the recipient may wear a patch with a plastic or metal shield, and/or protective eyeglasses or sunglasses. 

How Long Does It Take to Recover From a Corneal Transplant?

The full visual potential may take quite some time because of the healing process, corneal astigmatism, and other factors. You can expect the recovery process to take around 6-12 weeks, depending on your individual situation. 


The corneal transplant is not only the oldest transplant performed but also the most common and successful human transplant performed. The prognosis for a clear, functioning corneal transplant varies by diagnosis. 

Corneal Transplant Success Rate

The chance of long-term transplant success is higher than 94%, according to the Eye Bank Association of America. We can attribute the generally high rate of success of corneal transplantation to many factors, including the effectiveness of the immunosuppressive drugs used to treat graft rejection.

Read more about the corneal transplant recovery experience

Contact Your Eye Doctor for the Risks & Rewards of Corneal Transplants

If you have any concerns, contact your ophthalmologist. Your doctor will be able to inform you of the risks and rewards of a corneal transplant.

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