The cornea is the tissue on the very front of the eye. It is clear and covers the iris and pupil. It works with the lens to provide focusing power to the eye. If the cornea becomes opaque, swollen, or scarred, vision is compromised. Medication to control the damage to the cornea is usually the first line of treatment, but once it is clear that medication will not halt or alter the damage, a corneal transplant is considered. This surgical procedure involves the removal of the damaged tissue and replacement with a healthy, donated human cornea.
Because corneal transplant procedures require a transplant of foreign tissue into the eye, rejection of the tissue by the immune system of the recipient is the greatest risk. However, drugs can be used to hold back the rejection reaction both before it occurs and even after the fact. Despite the availability of immunosuppressive drugs, the rejection rate for corneal transplants remains between 5 to 30% of the time.
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