Is Fuchs’ dystrophy a hereditary eye condition?

Written by: Mr Alex Shortt
Edited by: Laura Burgess

The cornea is the eye’s outermost layer, and has two pivotal functions. The first is to protect and shield the rest of the eye from germs and dust, as well as filter out ultraviolet wavelengths from sunlight. The second function is the vision, as the cornea acts like a window that controls the light that enters into the eye. There are over 20 corneal dystrophies, which are diseases that affect all parts of the cornea. They cause the cornea to lose their normal clarity and vision to become cloudy. Expert ophthalmologist Mr Alex Shortt discusses one of the most common types of dystrophies to affect the cornea: Fuchs’ dystrophy.

What is Fuchs’ dystrophy?

Fuchs’ dystrophy, also known as Fuchs’ corneal endothelial dystrophy, is, in fact, an inherited eye condition, which can cause the cornea to become cloudy. The eye disease develops slowly and can affect people to a varying degree. The innermost layer of the cornea is affected, causing a sensitivity to light. Fuchs’ dystrophy cannot be treated through the use of eye drops or medicines and an ophthalmologist would recommend surgery.

What is the link between Fuchs’ dystrophy and a corneal transplant?

A specialist will recommend corneal transplant surgery as it is successful in treating Fuchs’ dystrophy. The surgical procedure removes all or part of a damaged cornea to replace it with healthy, clear cornea tissue.


What type of corneal transplant would I need for Fuchs’ dystrophy?

One of the most common corneal transplants used to treat Fuchs’ dystrophy is a procedure known as endothelial keratoplasty, which replaces only the innermost layers of the cornea. Endothelial keratoplasty has a short recovery time of only a few weeks to a few months. A patient may need to have a full-thickness transplant, which is a less common procedure to treat Fuch’s dystrophy. This is where the whole cornea is replaced by a donor cornea and this type of transplant, unlike the endothelial keratoplasty, requires stitches. The procedure has a recovery period of about 18 months.


What are the results?

Most people notice an improvement in their sight during the first six months following surgery. After having had a corneal transplant the patient will need to wear glasses or contact lenses to have the best vision. The time in which the patient’s vision will recover after a corneal transplant can depend on the type of transplant that they had. Only one in five transplants are at risk of rejection but the risk is reduced by using steroid eye drops. Across all types of corneal transplant, 75% last for at least five years and more than 50% last up to ten years.


Mr Alex Shortt

By Mr Alex Shortt

Mr Alex Shortt is an ophthalmologist specialising in cataract surgery, corneal transplant, laser eye surgery and LASIK. He worked at Moorfields Eye Hospital for 14 years and has become an expert in these fields.

Mr Shortt specialises in using stem cell transplants with patients requiring reconstruction of the eye and has performed hundreds of corneal transplants and thousands of cataract surgeries, vastly improving the quality of life for his patients.

He lectures at the University College London and NIHR Biomedical Research Centre for Ophthalmology. He also actively lectures throughout Europe and has published numerous research articles. Mr Shortt has won several awards for his research work.

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