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Living with an artificial eye

An artificial eye is also called an ocular prosthesis. If you need to have an eye removed to treat cancer, getting an artificial eye can help you look like you did before surgery.

You may be concerned about caring for and living with your artificial eye. You may find it hard to care for the artificial eye at first, but you will be able to adjust with time. Talk to your healthcare team if you are having trouble adjusting to life with an artificial eye.

After surgery to remove the eye

After the eye is removed, a conformer is placed in the eye socket, or orbit. A conformer is a plastic shell that helps keep the shape of the eye socket as it heals. It will stay in the eye until the artificial eye is made.

In some cases, an orbital implant is placed in the eye socket along with the conformer. An orbital implant is a device that helps keep the conformer and eventually the artificial eye in place. It is surgically attached to the orbit.

The appearance of the conformer and orbital implant may be shocking when you first see the eye after surgery. Try to keep in mind that the eye will not look like this after the artificial eye is in place.

Before you leave the hospital or once you are home, you will be taught how to:

  • care for the eye socket
  • remove, clean and replace the conformer
  • clean the eyelids
  • properly put in eye drops (if the doctor prescribes them)

Tell your healthcare team if you have a lot of mucus on your eyelids because this may be a sign of infection.

Fitting the artificial eye

Generally, the conformer is removed and the person is fitted with a temporary artificial eye (ocular prosthesis) about 4–8 weeks after the surgery. The temporary artificial eye helps the person get used to wearing a prosthesis. It may not match your other eye, but it will be similar. Before fitting the temporary eye, the ocular prosthetist (ocularist) makes a mould of the eye socket, which is used to make your permanent artificial eye. The ocularist paints the mould to match the colour of your other eye to help make the permanent prosthesis closely resemble your remaining eye.

It usually takes another few weeks to make a permanent prosthesis. The permanent artificial eye is made to match the size and colour of the remaining eye. Once your permanent artificial eye is in place, it will be difficult for others to tell the difference between it and your normal eye. It will look similar to the remaining eye, but may not move quite as much.

Caring for an artificial eye

Your healthcare team will teach you how to remove, clean and care for your artificial eye. There is a lot to learn, so it might help to bring a friend or loved one with you to your appointment. They can help you take notes and ask questions.

Life with an artificial eye

It takes time to adjust when cancer or its treatments affect your eyes and vision. Some people find it helps to talk to others about changes to their sight or appearance. You may also be coping with new sensations, such as feeling like the eye is still there when it has been removed. Talk to your healthcare team about the support groups available to help you cope with your emotions and daily life with an artificial eye.

Once the eye socket is healed and your artificial eye is in place, you can return to most of your daily activities. You can leave the prosthesis in place when you are sleeping. You can also wear eye makeup, if you want to.

Your healthcare team may recommend that you wear protective eyewear to help protect your functional eye. Examples of protective eyewear include safety glasses, goggles and face guards, visors or face shields on helmets. It is especially important to protect your eye when you play sports. Wear goggles when you go swimming. Remove your artificial eye or wear protective goggles when you dive or go skiing.

Talk to your doctor about how having an artificial eye may affect driving and other daily activities. When you have an artificial eye, your range of vision is affected. This means that you will need to turn your head more to check from side to side when driving or crossing a road.

You will need to tell your provincial or territorial driver-licensing authority and your motor vehicle insurance company that you have an artificial eye. They will likely want to test your vision. They may also place restrictions on your driving, such as only allowing you to drive for short periods of time to allow your functioning eye to rest.

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