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Five Types of Artificial Eyes – Why You Might Need a Prosthesis

By June 18, 2021Prosthetic Eyes
A close view of a prosthetic eye with green iris in someone’s hands

Five Types of Artificial Eyes and Which One Is Right for You

There are many different reasons why someone would need an artificial eye. But the main two are to restore the patient’s orbit to normal volume and shape and to appear natural with both eyes looking the same. Because many conditions can cause problems for your eye’s volume and appearance, you can find several types of artificial eyes.

However, in almost all cases, one of the five main types is best for you.

The type of artificial eye that is best for you may change over time, depending on how your condition develops or deteriorates. We’ll look at the five main types of artificial eyes in a moment, but first, let’s look a few of the main reasons people need them.

What Are Some Reasons Why a Person Needs an Artificial Eye?

Broadly speaking, we can place the reasons for needing an artificial eye into four categories: Injury, disease, surgery, and pre-existing or congenital conditions.

Eye Injuries

Eye injuries can happen at any age, and from all sorts of causes. Your eye can be injured at work, at home, while driving, or while playing outside. Anyone from an infant to someone over 100 years old can injure their eye.

If your eye injury requires some reconstruction or removal of the eye, you will likely need at least one type of artificial eye at some point in the process.

an ocularist inspects a patient's eye during an office visit

Eye Disease

Even children are vulnerable to certain diseases, such as retinoblastoma, a cancer that attacks the eye. Other eye diseases that might result in the need for an artificial eye include microphthalmia and phthisis bulbi, and there are many others.

Eye Surgery

Injuries and diseases often require surgery as part of the treatment. Sometimes this means removing part of the eye, and the most common such procedure is evisceration. Other times, the entire eye has to be removed (but not the eye muscles), which is known as enucleation.

If all or part of your eye has to be removed, an artificial eye will restore your orbit to normal volume and shape. Helping you find confidence in a new, natural looking eye. It’s also possible that more of the eye anatomy needs to be removed, as in the case of exenteration where the eye globe is removed along with the soft tissues surrounding the globe and possibly the eyelids and eye muscles.

Pre-existing Conditions

Some people are born with eye problems, such as blindness. They sometimes have eyeballs that do not align.

Without listing every such condition, the commonality among these conditions is that the patient often wants or needs to cover up their disfigured eye. Sometimes this is just for appearance; other times there are health reasons for doing so.

5 Types of Artificial Eyes

1. Conformer

The conformer eye is a clear shield that is used as a temporary covering after eye surgery. The conformer serves as the transition to a more permanent artificial eye that will be needed later. But after surgery, the eye socket needs to heal and be protected.

Also, the eyelids must be enabled to continue functioning properly. Without a conformer there to fill the approximate shape of an eyeball, the eyelids can lose their form and compromise their ability to support a more permanent artificial eye later. See a conformer artificial eye here.

2. Prosthetic Eye

A prosthetic eye, also known as a prosthesis, is made of acrylic, and it’s an incredible blend of art and science. It’s meant to resemble your other eye so perfectly that most people won’t realize you have an artificial eye. That’s the art.

The prosthesis is shaped to fit into your eye socket and allow your eyelids and tear ducts to function as normal. That’s the science. Some people also have an orbital implant surgically implanted behind where the prosthesis will be, but this is not always necessary in order to have an artificial eye.

When you’ve had your eye removed in surgery for any reason, you’ll need something to fill the space, and after the eye has healed with the help of a conformer, the prosthetic eye serves this purpose. You will wear it for the rest of your life. With care and maintenance, they last for many years.

Someone’s hand holding a scleral shell, or artificial eye, with a brown iris.

3. Scleral Shell

For eyes that are disfigured in some way but still present, a prosthetic eye would be too large and wouldn’t work. For people in this situation, a scleral shell offers the best means to restoring the natural appearance of your eye.

Much thinner than a prosthetic eye but made of the same material, a shell fits over the top of your existing eye. They are often just a few millimeters thick. The smooth surface allows your eyelids to close comfortably.

Like prosthetic eyes, a shell can be worn full time, and they are also designed to look just like your other eye so no one can tell the difference. See before and after photos of patients served by Northwest Eye Design who wear scleral shells.

4. Flush Shells

A flush shell is a special type of scleral shell, designed for people whose eyes are almost full size. The flush shell is even thinner, because very little additional thickness is needed to fill any space in the eye socket. For people with these conditions, flush shells are far more comfortable and longer lasting than something like colored contact lenses.

5. Orbital Prosthesis

An orbital or maxillofacial prosthesis is a much larger prosthesis made of silicone to restore the appearance of eye lids and socket volume when an exenteration has occurred. The silicone is shaped to match the eye lids and facial structures around the eye and colored to match the skin. A prosthetic eye is fit inside the orbital prosthesis to complete the restoration. Typically an orbital prosthesis is held in with an adhesive or magnetic attachment.

Which Artificial Eye Is Right for You?

Your ocularist will recommend the best choice for your situation, because there is usually only one best option. If you’re missing your entire eye, you need a prosthetic eye. If your existing eye is still there, you’ll need a shell. The thickness of that shell will be determined by the condition of your eye.

Northwest Eye Design will be able to fulfill your needs by creating the best visual replica of your existing eye, while also fashioning it into the correct shape that will fit comfortably in your eye socket and allow your eyelids and tear ducts to function properly.

If you are looking to consult with and ocularist, we encourage you to start the process of creating your new artificial eye by contacting our office.