What is an Ocular Prosthesis?

Tara Barnett

An ocular prosthesis is an object designed to replace the physical shape of the eye without providing restored vision. These items are used for a variety of purposes, including maintaining facial shape and decreasing the visibility of the disability. Many people elect to use an ocular prosthesis that will look as natural as possible, but some people choose to use the prosthesis as an opportunity for self-expression. Even though humans are by far the most common users of ocular prostheses, it is possible to make prosthetics for other animals as well.

An ocular prosthesis does not restore lost vision.
An ocular prosthesis does not restore lost vision.

Use of an ocular prosthesis is not merely an aesthetic choice. Without an eyeball in the eye socket, the area around the eye becomes sunken and uneven. In children, an ocular prosthesis may be a way to promote normal facial growth even if the prosthetic device looks nothing like an eye. Not all prosthetic eyes are full spheres, and many are designed to fit over a very small eye.

One ocular prosthesis with which many people are familiar is known as a glass eye. Contrary to popular belief, most glass eyes are not simply spheres that pop in and out of the socket. Rather, they are shaped like a convex shell and fit over an orbital implant. There are also prostheses that can be worn over a damaged eye if the eye has not been removed.

In addition to supporting the structure of the face, ocular prostheses are intended to return a person's appearance to normalcy. As such, a highly detailed and personalized eye must be created in order to match the person's other eye. An ocularist typically paints the iris and pupil on the prosthetic by hand and may include features like veins in the white of the eye. Making ocular prostheses requires both artistic talent and medical knowledge.

Some people choose to use an ocular prosthesis as a means of self-expression. There are examples of people choosing to use extremely unusual designs for their prostheses, including the logos of sports teams and unusual colors. Finding an ocularist who can accommodate these designs is not always easy, but using the Internet it is usually possible.

Humans are not the only animals that can use ocular prostheses. Many people choose to give animals prosthetic eyes in order to keep their faces from sinking, much like a human's might. The animal, of course, has no sense of physical attractiveness that must be restored, but owners often feel more comfortable with a pet that has two eyes. Whether to use a prosthetic device for an animal is largely a personal decision to be made in consultation with a veterinarian.

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