If you've been scheduled for a corneal transplant, you probably have some questions. Our guide offers the answers you're looking for and helps you prepare for your operation.

About the Operation​​​​​

The cornea is a series of clear layers on the outside of the eye that help it focus light. A scarred or damaged cornea can impair vision. In a corneal transplant, the surgeon replaces your scarred or damaged cornea with a clear, healthy one from a human donor.

There are several types of corneal transplants. Your surgeon will choose the type of transplant based on your specific need.

Full Thickness Corneal Transplant

When both the inner and outer layers of the cornea are damaged, your surgeon may need to replace the full thickness of the cornea. This is known as penetrating keratoplasty (PKP). The damaged cornea will be removed, and a donor cornea will be stitched in place.

illustration of PKP Procedure
In the PKP procedure, the full thickness of the cornea is replaced.

Full recovery from a PKP transplant can take more than 1 year, and there is a greater risk of the donor cornea being rejected by the body’s immune system than for other types of transplant.

Partial Thickness Corneal Transplant

If only the outer and middle layers are damaged, your surgeon may replace only these layers through a procedure known as deep anterior lamellar keratoplasty (DALK).

The recovery time for DALK is typically less than that of PKP, and the risk for transplant rejection is lower.

Endothelial Keratoplasty

The innermost layer of the cornea is known as the ‘endothelium’. If only this layer is damaged, your surgeon may replace it through one of two procedures:

  • Descemet’s Stripping (Automated) Endothelial Keratoplasty—DSEK(DSAEK)
  • Descemet’s Membrane Endothelial Keratoplasty—DMEK

In both of these, the inner layer is removed through a small incision, the donor tissue is inserted and the incision is closed with a few stitches. The procedures differ in the thickness of the donor tissue. The donor tissue for the DMEK surgery is thinner than for the DSEK surgery, resulting in a typically faster recovery.

Both procedures also involve the insertion of an air bubble to hold the donor tissue against the remaining cornea so that it heals correctly.