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Health A-Z

Medical Content Created by the Faculty of the
Harvard Medical School

What Is It?

The cornea is the clear, round, "window" of tissue that allows light to enter the front of the eye. If the cornea becomes severely diseased or damaged, it can distort or even block the normal path of light into the eye. When this happens, light does not focus normally on the retina, the layer at the back of the eye that is responsible for sight. As a result, there can be a significant loss of vision in the affected eye.

When corneal conditions cause serious, irreversible vision problems, a corneal transplant often is the best solution. In a corneal transplant, an eye surgeon first removes the diseased or damaged area of cornea. The removed tissue then is replaced by a section of healthy cornea that has been taken from the eye of a dead donor.

Donor corneas come from a local eye bank that has been certified by the Eye Bank Association of America. The role of the local eye bank is to locate donor corneas and to distribute them to eye patients registered on a transplant waiting list. In most cases, the waiting time for a suitable cornea is fairly brief, often a matter of days. Usually, you can have the transplant done as an outpatient.

Corneal transplantation is the most common type of transplant surgery done in the United States. More than 46,000 corneas are transplanted each year in the United States, where the procedure has a very high success rate.

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From Health A-Z, Harvard Health Publications. Copyright 2007 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. All rights reserved. Written permission is required to reproduce, in any manner, in whole or in part, the material contained herein. To make a reprint request, contact Harvard Health Publications. Used with permission of StayWell.

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