Alternative names
Corneal transplant; Penetrating keratoplasty

A corneal transplant is surgery to replace the clear surface on the front of the eye (the cornea).


Most corneal transplant operations are done under local anesthesia on an outpatient basis. This means that the patient is awake but an injection is given to make the eye completely numb. There is no pain.

The corneal tissue for transplantation is taken from a donor shortly after death with the permission of the next of kin. Though most transplant procedures carry the risk of rejection of the transplant tissue or organ, the cornea has very limited blood supply, which greatly reduces this risk. Most corneal transplants function extremely well for many years.

Corneal transplantation is recommended for:

  • inherited corneal thinning (keratoconus) with visual distortion  
  • scarring of the cornea from severe infections or injuries  
  • inherited corneal clouding (Fuch’s dystrophy) with visual loss

The risks for any anesthesia are:

  • reactions to medications  
  • problems breathing

The risks for any surgery are:

  • bleeding, but this is a rare complication since the cornea normally has no blood vessels  
  • infection

Expectations after surgery

Full visual recovery takes a long time (up to a year), but most patients with successful corneal transplants will enjoy good vision for many years, or even a lifetime.

Rest and avoid strenuous activities during the healing phase.

Johns Hopkins patient information

Last revised: December 8, 2012
by Armen E. Martirosyan, M.D.

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