Many people take their vision for granted; however, vision loss impacts more people than most realize. Data that was published by the 2016 National Health Interview Survey showed that more than 25 million adults in the United States experience some form of vision loss. For many people with nearsightedness or farsightedness, their vision can be corrected with glasses or contact lenses. On the other hand, some people may have more severe vision problems. In some cases, they might even require a corneal transplant. What is a corneal transplant and when is it recommended?
Infections and inflammation of the eyes
One of the reasons why someone might need a cornea transplant is due to an infection of the eye itself. Infection and inflammation in the eyes can lead to corneal scarring. This can make it difficult for people to see clearly and could require a corneal transplant. Some of the reasons why people might develop infections of the eyes include:
- A weakened immune system: Some people are immunocompromised, meaning that they cannot fight off infections as well as other people. People can be immunocompromised for a number of reasons including an HIV infection, immunosuppressive medications (such as steroids), or cancers of the blood (such as leukemia).
- Wearing contact lenses: People who wear contact lenses are also at a higher risk of ocular infection if their lenses are not cleaned regularly, taken out appropriately, or changed on schedule.
- Eye rubbing: Individuals can also develop infections of the eye simply by rubbing their eyes, which is why it is important for everyone to wash their hands regularly.
While some infections of the eyes can be treated quickly and avoid permanent eye damage, serious infections could lead to corneal scarring, which requires a cornea transplant.
Thinning of the cornea
Some people might have a chronic medical condition that leads to a thin cornea. The job of the cornea is to focus the light of the eye. However, in a condition called keratoconus, the cornea thins and bulges out in the shape of a cone. Because the shape of the cornea has changed, the light is out of focus. This leads to blurry vision or glares and can make it hard to perform certain activities such as:
- Reading a book
- Driving a car
- Typing on a computer
- Texting on a phone
Since the shape of the cornea is off, a corneal transplant might be required. This replaces the misshapen cornea a with a properly shaped transplant, helping people see.
Another reason why someone might require a cornea transplant is a chronic medical condition called Fuchs’ Dystrophy. In this corneal disease, the endothelial layer dies off. The job of the endothelial layer of the cornea is to produce fluid that keeps it clear. Without these cells, the cornea becomes swollen, leading to vision problems. Some people with this condition describe their vision as being cloudy or hazy. Initially, people notice blurry or hazy vision in the morning that improves throughout the day. After a while, this improvement fades and people notice blurry vision during the entire day. Sometimes, people develop blisters on their cornea, which cause pain when they rupture. Often, visual problems don’t develop until middle age. One of the treatment options for individuals with Fuchs’ Dystrophy is surgery. The replacement cornea will have an intact endothelial layer, leading to symptomatic improvement and sharper vision.
What happens during a cornea transplant?
On the day of the surgical procedure, most individuals are given a medication to help them relax along with an anesthetic to numb the eye. While most people are not fully asleep during the surgery, individuals should not feel pain during the procedure. During the transplant, the surgeon will cut through the entire diseased cornea and remove the tissue. A precise surgical tool is used to make the cut. After this is done, the donor cornea is sized to fit the opening. Then, the surgeon will use a thin thread to sew the new cornea into place. If a suitable donor is not found, an artificial cornea can also be used to complete this procedure.
Corneal transplants can lead to vision improvement
Ultimately, the idea of eye surgery might sound scary to some people; however, a corneal transplant can make a tremendous difference in someone’s ability to see. Through this procedure, people can also experience a remarkable improvement in their quality of life. Therefore, anyone with questions or concerns about their vision or ways to improve it should seek help from a trained medical professional, particularly with Low Vision Awareness Month coming up. A corneal transplant could be the right decision.