Study Rates Success of Corneal Transplants in Kids

Most children, once legally blind, achieved 20/40 vision or better, researcher says

TUESDAY, March 1 (HealthDay News) -- Most youths who are given a corneal transplant register improvements in vision that should positively affect their everyday life, though the individual benefits may vary, according to Australian researchers.

The researchers examined outcomes among 640 infants, children and teens who received new corneas between 1985 and 2009. Transplants were considered successful if they significantly improved vision and if the new corneas remained healthy for 10 years or more.

The highest success rate was seen in teens who were treated for keratoconus, which is degeneration of the structure of the cornea. Among youths included in the study, the condition was the reason for 86 percent of corneal transplants in those 13 to 19 years old.

Among the teens who had a corneal transplant because of keratoconus, 75 percent achieved 20/40 vision or better, including some who subsequently needed glasses, contact lenses or vision-correcting surgery, and 90 percent still had viable corneas after 10 years, the study found.

However, the researchers found a success rate for children younger than 5 years of just 50 percent, which they said was mostly likely attributable to the illnesses that had made the transplants necessary. They noted that many of these children had serious developmental disorders.

Success rates for children 5 to 12 years old were similar to those for adults who received corneal transplants for similar reasons.

Fewer than 40 percent of children younger than 5 had functional corneas 16 years after transplantation, compared with 70 percent of children ages 5 to 12 at 22 years after transplantation.

"Vision improvement was substantial for children of all age groups in whom grafts succeeded, and we can safely assume this had a significant positive impact on their social and educational development," study leader Keryn A. Williams said in a news release from the American Academy of Opthalmology. The findings are published in the March issue of the academy's journal, Ophthalmology.

"From the available pre-surgery vision records, we know that before their transplants most kids had 20/200 vision (defined as legally blind), and after surgery 60 to 80 percent of them attained 20/40 or better and maintained this improvement for up to 15 years," she added.

More information

The National Keratoconus Foundation has more about keratoconus.

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