Updated on  February 20, 2024
7 min read

Prosthetic Eye: Surgery, Costs and Care

6 sources cited
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If you or a loved one needs to undergo prosthetic eye surgery, you likely have questions about what to expect. Fortunately, ocular prosthetics have come a long way and are nearly indistinguishable from natural eyes.

Prosthetic eye held by a surgeon wearing medical gloves
Ophthalmologist or surgeon holds in hand dressed in a blue glove eye (eyeball). Concept photo for ocular prosthesis, diagnosis and treatment of ophtalmic diseases, surgical operations on eyes

This article answers common questions about prosthetic eyes, including how they work, costs, and how to care for them. 

What is a Prosthetic Eye?

A prosthetic eye, or ocular prosthesis, is an artificial eye implant that mimics the appearance of a natural human eye. Ocular prosthetics enhance the comfort and appearance of people who have lost an eye to severe injury or disease.

Common reasons why people might need a prosthetic eye include:

People have been using prosthetic eyes throughout history. Long ago, prosthetic eyes were made of glass. Today, they’re made of medical-grade plastic acrylic, which is more durable.

A prosthetic eye isn’t a sphere like an eyeball. It’s a thin, removable disc that covers an ocular implant placed during eye removal surgery (enucleation). The disc is custom-made to match the existing eye.

What is an Ocularist?

An ocularist is a highly skilled professional who makes and fits ocular prostheses.  They customize prosthetic eyes to resemble natural eyes. This includes an iris, pupil, sclera (white of the eye), and even blood vessels. 

How Does a Prosthetic Eye Work?

After eye removal surgery, a round, porous implant gets placed in the empty socket. It may be made of coral or synthetic material. The implant gets wrapped in eye tissue and attached to muscles that enable normal eye movement. 

The ocular prosthesis attaches to the implant, which is attached to the eye muscles. This allows the prosthesis to move in sync with the natural eye. You can cry, swim, and shower while wearing an ocular prosthesis.

However, an eye prosthesis won’t provide vision, and the pupil will not respond to light.

How Much Does a Prosthetic Eye Cost?

The cost of a new prosthetic eye can range from $2,000 to more than $8,000 without health insurance. This doesn’t include the cost of surgery. 

Acrylic ocular prosthetics need to be replaced every 3 to 5 years. Keep this in mind when considering long-term costs.

The amount you pay for an ocular prosthesis will vary depending on the ocularist, insurance coverage, and needs.

Does Insurance Cover Prosthetic Eyes?

Artificial eyes are considered durable medical equipment typically covered by medical insurance. However, vision insurance won’t cover them.

Talk to your health insurance provider to determine how much you should expect to pay for an ocular prosthetic.

Is there Financial Assistance for Prosthetic Eyes?

Some organizations, such as Amputee Coalition, specialize in connecting people with financial assistance for prosthetic services. You may also qualify for a medical grant through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Additionally, you can ask your doctor or ocularist for financial services in your area.

What Are the Two Types of Eye Removal Surgery?

The two types of eye removal surgery are enucleation and evisceration. The main difference is that enucleation involves removing the entire eye. 

Both types attach the implant to your eye muscles so the prosthesis will move in sync with your natural eye.

The surgery you need determines the type of prosthetic eye your doctor will select. Two options include: 

Enucleation

This is the most common type of prosthetic eye surgery. Enucleation involves removing the entire eyeball, including the sclera (white of the eye).

The surgeon will replace the eyeball with a porous, round implant made of coral or synthetic material. They will cover the implant in scleral tissue from a donor.

Evisceration

Evisceration removes the cornea (clear front part of the eye) and the other contents of the eyeball. It’s a less invasive procedure than enucleation and has a quicker recovery time.

The surgeon will leave the sclera intact and use it to cover the porous implant in this procedure.

What Is the Recovery Like After Prosthetic Eye Surgery?

Both enucleation and evisceration involve placing a temporary shell of clear plastic behind your eyelid. You will wear this for a few weeks after surgery to prevent the eye socket from shrinking during healing.

About 6 to 10 weeks after surgery, you can visit your ocularist for a prosthesis fitting. They will take an impression of your eye socket and create a customized ocular prosthesis to match your natural eye.

When you’re fully healed, about 3 to 4 months after surgery, the plastic shell will be removed. Then, you can begin wearing your prosthesis. You may need to return to the ocularist for another check-up about a month later.

Risks and Side Effects of Prosthetic Eye Surgery

As with any surgical procedure, prosthetic eye surgery involves some risk of side effects and complications. Common side effects include temporary swelling and bruising at the surgery site.

You may feel mild discomfort when first wearing an ocular prosthesis. However, this is something you’ll get used to.

Infection is rare, but it can occur. You will likely be given antibiotics to take for several days after surgery. 

Sympathetic ophthalmitis is a rare complication of evisceration surgery that causes inflammation. It can cause vision loss in your healthy eye.

When to Call a Doctor

Call your doctor if you experience:

  • Swollen, red, and irritated eye socket
  • Eye pain
  • Cracked or chipped prosthesis
  • Problems with how your prosthetic fits 

How to Care for a Prosthetic Eye 

Regular care is required to prevent irritation around your ocular prosthetic and eye socket.

Tips for caring for your prosthetic eye include:

  • Clean it with water and mild soap every 3 to 4 weeks. Never use alcohol-based cleaners
  • After cleaning, let it air dry. Do not wipe with a cloth, as it may leave behind particles
  • Wash your hands before touching your prosthetic eye. Dirty hands can introduce harmful bacteria into your eye sockets
  • Sleep with your ocular prosthesis in place. Unless otherwise advised by your doctor, avoid removing it too often
  • Lubricate your prosthesis. With eye drops or contact lens solution
  • Get your prosthesis polished annually. Visit your ocularist for this
  • Replace your prosthesis as needed. About every 5 years or sooner if it becomes damaged or fits improperly

Common Questions about Artificial Eyes

Can you see with an artificial eye?

No. An ocular prosthesis cannot restore a person’s vision. It can improve their comfort and appearance after having an eye removed.

Do you sleep with a prosthetic eye?

You should sleep with your prosthesis in place unless your doctor advises otherwise. Generally, you should only remove it when necessary, such as for routine cleaning.

What is the difference between a prosthetic eye and a glass eye?

Older prosthetic eyes were made of glass, so they were called glass eyes. Newer artificial eyes are made of medical-grade plastic acrylic. They’re more durable than older glass eyes.

How long does a prosthetic eye last?

The material in newer prosthetic eyes can last up to 10 years. However, most people need to replace their ocular prosthesis more frequently, about every 3 to 5 years. This is because the tissues in your eye socket change size.

Summary

A prosthetic eye, or ocular prosthesis, is a custom-made shell that looks like a natural eye. It fits over an implant placed in the eye socket. It’s recommended if an eye must be removed due to injury or disease.

The two types of eye removal surgery are enucleation and evisceration. Enucleation is the complete removal of the eyeball, and it leaves the eye muscles and eyelids intact. Evisceration only removes the cornea and leaves the sclera, eye muscles, and eyelids intact.

Both procedures involve the placement of an artificial ball implant that holds the prosthetic eye. Most insurance plans cover enucleation and evisceration.

Updated on  February 20, 2024
6 sources cited
Updated on  February 20, 2024
  1. Changal et al. “Ocularists the less known mid eye care professionals and their contribution in eye health care.” Saudi Journal of Ophthalmology, 2020.

  2. When to Refer to an Ocularist.” American Society of Ocularists, nd.

  3. Yom et al. “Enucleation and Evisceration: What to Expect.”  The University of Iowa, 2018.

  4. Merritt et al. “Evisceration.” American Academy of Ophthalmology, 2023.

  5. Lodhi, O. and Tripathy, K. “Anesthesia For Eye Surgery.” StatPearls, 2023.

  6. Caring for Your Prosthetic Eye.” Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, 2022.

The information provided on VisionCenter.org should not be used in place of actual information provided by a doctor or a specialist.