What is corneal dystrophy?
Corneal dystrophy is a collective term that refers to several conditions that cause damage to the cornea. The cornea is the clear tissue at the front of the eye that lets in light and helps focus it on the retina so that we can see. Disease or injury can damage the cornea, making it cloudy or distorted in shape, causing loss of vision.
Treatment for corneal disease is a transplant operation which removes all or part of a damaged cornea and is replaced by healthy donor tissue. In the UK alone, every year, over 2,500 people have their sight restored thanks to a corneal transplant.
Sight Research UK is proud to have contributed to the establishment of the UK Corneal Transplant Service and ongoing research into improved treatments for corneal disease and methods of corneal transplantation. However, more needs to be done to constantly improve this treatment option.
Causes of corneal disease
The cornea is the clear tissue at the front of the eye that lets in light and helps focus it on the retina so that we can see.
It protects your eyes from dirt, germs, and other particles, it filters and screens out some of the sun’s damaging ultraviolet (UV) waves and contributes between 65-75% of your eye's focusing power.
Disease or injury can damage the cornea, making it cloudy or distorted in shape, causing loss of vision. Common causes of damage to the cornea include:
- Infections, such as corneal ulcers that scar the corneal tissue.
- Keratoconus in young people, where the usually round cornea begins to bulge into a cone shape.
- Scarring caused by herpes, the cold sore virus.
- Age or inherited conditions may lead to cloudiness of the cornea in older people.
Treatment for corneal disease
A corneal transplant replaces diseased corneal tissue with a disc of healthy tissue from a donor. There are different types of corneal transplant and the procedure chosen depends on which part of the cornea is damaged or how much of the cornea needs replacing.
The procedure usually lasts less than one hour and is carried out under local anaesthetic as day surgery.
How to donate your corneas
There is a shortage of donated corneas in the UK. Many more people could have the chance to benefit from sight-saving surgery if more corneas were donated.
People of all ages can donate their corneas after they die, and about 65% of cornea-only donors are over 60 years old. Many more people could be cornea donors than organ donors because, unlike solid organs, corneas can be donated up to 24 hours after death. You do not have to die in hospital to donate your corneas, but the retrieval service is usually provided by major hospitals.
To register with the NHS Organ donor register, join online here or call 0300 123 23 23 (open 24 hours 7 days a week).
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