Corneal Graft Rejection Treatment & Management

Updated: Mar 19, 2014
  • Author: Michael Taravella, MD; Chief Editor: Hampton Roy, Sr, MD  more...
  • Print
Treatment

Medical Care

See the list below:

  • Treatment of graft rejection depends on the type of rejection; however, in all cases, topical corticosteroids are the mainstay of treatment. Epithelial or stromal rejection without endothelial involvement usually does not progress to graft failure. As previously noted, epithelial rejection may be a self-limited process. Nonetheless, epithelial and stromal rejection should be aggressively treated, because they indicate host immunologic recognition of the graft and may precede a more severe endothelial rejection. Topical corticosteroids (eg, dexamethasone 0.1%, prednisolone acetate 1%) are prescribed 4-6 times/d until the signs of rejection resolve, followed by a slow tapering of the topical medication. These patients should be followed closely to be certain that the signs of rejection are improving and that endothelial rejection has not developed.

  • In cases of endothelial rejection, treatment must be more aggressive if the episode is to be reversed. Topical corticosteroids should be used every hour while awake and as frequently as possible at night for 2-3 days, followed by every 2 hours while awake. Steroid ointment may be used at bedtime. Therapy should be continued until signs of rejection resolve. Topical medications should be tapered slowly over several weeks to a few months depending upon the patient's response to treatment. Therapy should be continued for at least 3 weeks in the absence of response before judging that the graft has failed.

  • Other routes of administration of corticosteroids can be used in more severe endothelial rejections, in recurrent rejections, or if the patient is at high risk (eg, alkali burns, patients with vascularized corneas). Corticosteroids may be given by subconjunctival injection (eg, dexamethasone phosphate 2 mg, betamethasone 3 mg in 0.5 mL). A less painful alternative is a collagen shield soaked in corticosteroids and applied to the cornea combined with frequent corticosteroid eye drops. The collagen shield results in a higher local concentration of steroid than can be obtained by the use of corticosteroid drops alone. The shield acts as a depot reservoir for the drug that slowly releases its contents during the period between topical applications. Higher steroid concentrations have been noted in the cornea, aqueous humor, iris, and vitreous, compared with hourly drops alone.

  • Systemic corticosteroids can also be used in cases of severe endothelial rejection. Oral prednisone is generally started at dosages of 60-80 mg daily and continued for as long as 1-2 weeks before tapering. In line with findings in other fields of medicine, data suggest that pulsed intravenous (IV) steroids may be more effective than oral prednisone in reversing corneal graft rejection. Pulsed steroids (a single IV administration of 500 mg methylprednisolone) have been shown to improve the percentage of graft survival compared with oral steroids in patients who present early (within the first 8 d) in a rejection episode. A nonsignificant trend toward improved survival in all episodes of rejection in favor of pulsed steroids exists. In addition, pulsed steroids reduce the risk of subsequent rejection episodes, which may be a significant benefit in higher risk corneal grafts. Pulsed steroids also avoid prolonged administration of oral steroids.

  • In all cases of rejection, intraocular pressure should be monitored closely, especially when frequent corticosteroids are used. If necessary, elevated intraocular pressure should be controlled by topical medications to prevent glaucoma and to improve the chance of graft survival.

Next:

Surgical Care

See the list below:

  • No surgical care has proven beneficial during an episode of acute graft rejection.

  • Some transplant surgeons scrape the donor corneal epithelium to reduce the antigen load.

  • No solid evidence suggests that removing the donor epithelium is beneficial in reducing the risk of subsequent graft rejection.

Previous
Next:

Diet

See the list below:

  • No dietary restrictions have been identified.

Previous
Next:

Activity

See the list below:

  • No activity restrictions have been noted.

Previous