Cornea donation

Almost anyone can donate their corneas. The cornea is the clear tissue at the front of your eye that lets in light so you can see. This small and simple part of the eye is hugely important for thousands of cornea transplants a year, often saving the sight of patients for many years.

Eye donation

Eye donation involves donating your corneas – not your iris. Sometimes called a keratoplasty, or a corneal graft, a cornea transplant could give someone back the gift of sight. When you register as an organ donor, you can choose to be a tissue donor too. Why not register as an organ and tissue donor today? The register is a permanent record of your wish to be a donor and can be updated at any time.

Can I be a cornea donor?

Your corneas could be invaluable for saving someone’s sight. Most people are able to donate their corneas when they die. As with other tissue donations, even people who may be unable to donate their organs can usually become cornea donors. This is because not all of the restrictions that apply to organ donation are applicable to tissue donation. There is no age restriction for donating eyes, skin or bone.

With more donors like you, we could be changing many more lives. Cornea transplants usually have a very good chance of success. Around 93% of transplants continue to function after one year. By five years, 74% of transplants are still working well and many will continue for many more years after that.

The sooner that donation takes place, the better the transplant outcome. But, your corneas can be donated up to 24 hours after you die. All the major religious faiths support eye donation.

Why do people need a corneal transplant?

We do not currently have enough donated corneas to meet demand in the UK. People can need cornea transplants for quite a number of reasons including:

  • disease or injury that has made the cornea cloudy or distorted, causing vision loss
  • scarring of the cornea after infections such as corneal ulcer
  • Keratoconus (thinning of the cornea that causes a cone-like bulge to develop, usually in young people)
  • age or inherited conditions that may lead to cloudiness of the cornea in older people
  • scarring caused by herpes, the cold sore virus.

A cornea transplant makes a lasting difference to people’s lives and is a relatively quick procedure. Depending on which type of corneal transplant people need, and how much of the cornea needs replacing, the transplant can be completed in under an hour.

If you want to donate your eyes

Tell your friends and family that you want to be a cornea donor – it is very important that they understand and support your organ and tissue donation decision because your family’s support is needed for donation to go ahead. Dealing with the death of a loved one is a difficult time to make an important decision quickly.

Sign up to the Organ Donor Register online. The NHS Organ Donor Register is a secure database that records people’s decision around whether or not they want to be an organ and tissue donor when they die.

Call us on 0300 123 23 23.

If you would like to refer a potential cornea donor, please call the Tissues National Referral Centre on 0800 432 0559.

Further information

Laura's amazing cornea transplant