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When Are Corneal Implants Needed?

surgen preparing for corneal implant

The clarity of the cornea as a whole can be affected by a huge range of conditions. Perhaps you have experienced injury or trauma to the eye, which often leads to scarring. Additionally, there are a number of infections, in particular herpes keratitis, which can cause scarring. Fuch’s dystrophy, which is a hereditary condition, can lead to full corneal failure. Another medical condition is keratoconus, which can curve the cornea very steeply. Finally, one of the risks of cataract surgery is corneal failure.

If vision cannot be corrected sufficiently with contacts or glasses, then a corneal transplant may be necessary. Sometimes, people also experience painful swelling, which can’t always be corrected with special lenses or medication. Corneal implants may be necessary for them.

Corneal Implant Surgery Options
When corneal implant surgery is performed, a human donor cornea has to be used. Of course, this cornea has to be tested for various diseases first, including HIV/AIDS, hepatitis and various other infectious diseases. Additionally, the donor cornea is tested for clarity. Penetrating keratoplasty is used when a full corneal transplant has to be performed. Here, surgeons will remove a circular part of the diseases cornea. A piece of exactly the same size is then removed from the donor, which is then sutured into position.

The other option is an endothelial keratoplasty (EK), but here only the inner lining, which is abnormal, is removed from the cornea. A donor tissue disc is then placed on the back of the surface of the cornea instead. This then gets pushed into place with a simple air bubble, until it heals and fuses.

Finally, there is the lamellar corneal procedure. Here, the cornea’s superficial layers are replaced with donor tissue. To keep it in place, sutures are used.

Most of the times, these procedures are performed on an outpatient basis. It is generally not necessary to use full anesthetic either, which makes release much quicker. However, in some 50% of the cases, full anesthetic is required, in which case an overnight stay will also be recommended. Unfortunately, this depends fully on you as a patient, which means you won’t know how long you will be in hospital until you are going in for surgery.

In terms of recovery time, it is actually very slow. The sutures used in some of the procedures can take six months to dissolve. It can also take as long as two years before full vision is restored. It is important to remember that the eyes are slow to heal, particularly because we don’t look after them properly. It is very hard not to rub the eye, even if it is just after waking up or washing your face.

Consider the Gift of Sight
It is hugely important to understand that corneal implants, regardless of the option, can only be possible if people decide to become an organ donor. In the U.S. alone, some 50,000 people require a new cornea, which means they are truly given the gift of sight by donors. Without these people, the incidence of blindness would be much higher.

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