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An Overview of Partial Corneal Transplant

written by: Vasanth • edited by: lrohner • updated: 1/12/2011

A partial corneal transplant is a surgical procedure in which the damaged cell layer of the cornea is removed. The layer is replaced with healthy tissue from a donor cornea. It is used to treat swelling of the cornea after cataract surgery.

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    What is a Partial Corneal Transplant?

    A partial corneal transplant is a surgical procedure in which the damaged cell layer of the cornea is remove and replaced with healthy tissue from a donor cornea. The procedure is also known as Descemet’s stripping endokeratoplasty (DSEK), or partial-thickness cornea transplant. The procedure focuses only on the damaged portion of the cornea, instead of the full cornea thickness. Specifically, the Descemet's membrane, which is situated between the stroma and the endothelial layer of the cornea, is removed.1

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    Who is Eligible for a Partial Corneal Transplant?

    An ophthalmologist may recommend a partial corneal transplant for individuals that have various conditions that affect the cornea. A swollen cornea resulting from cataract surgery is one situation in which a partial corneal transplant can be used. Corneal endothelial disease is another condition that may be treated with a partial corneal transplant.2

    One of the rare diseases of the cornea that may warrant a partial corneal transplant is Fuch's dystrophy. This disease is characterized by a build up of fluid in the cornea, due to a lack of functioning endothelial cells. It causes cloudy vision, pain, swelling, and loss of corneal transparency.3

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    What Happens During and After Surgery?

    A partial corneal transplant usually takes 60-90 minutes to complete. During the procedure, the damaged part of the cornea is removed. The donor tissue is inserted into the eye through a small incision and held against the cornea with an air bubble.

    After the procedure, expect certain side effects, including eye irritation, tearing, and discomfort. This may last for two weeks. As the eye heals, vision will gradually improve. It usually takes about one to three months to notice an improvement in vision. Structurally, the cornea will heal completely in about six months to two years.2

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    What are the Advantages of a Partial Corneal Transplant?

    The biggest advantage of a partial corneal transplant over a full thickness corneal transplant, or penetrating keratoplasty, is the reduced impact on the eye. The chances of improved vision is much better, and the risk of vision loss is minimal. An individual's severity of nearsightedness, farsightedness, or astigmatism isn't affected too much by the procedure.2

    Another advantage of a partial corneal transplant over similar procedures is the recovery time. Generally, it takes less time to recover from a partial corneal transplant. The main reason for the reduced recovery time is that the procedure doesn't require sutures.1 The incision required for a partial corneal transplant is very small, and the cornea is able to heal much quicker than it would after a full thickness corneal transplant.

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    1. "Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences: Corneal Transplants and DSEK." Washington University Physicians.

    2. "Partial-Thickness Cornea Transplant." Mayo Clinic.

    3. "Fuch's Distrophy." Mayo Clinic.

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Additional Info