What is a Glass Eye?

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Sometimes, diseases of the human eye or injury can require that an eye be removed through an eye surgery called either enucleation, evisceration, or orbital exenteration depending on how much of the components of the eye socket must be removed. There are many reasons why the eye may need to be removed including injury, cancer, advanced glaucoma, congenial eye diseases or other common eye diseases.


 In these cases, many people opt to wear an artificial eye, also known as a prosthetic eye or an ocular prosthesis, rather than an eye patch. Artificial eyes are often called glass eyes, but this term is no longer accurate since currently, artificial eyes for humans are made from methyl methacrylate, a high quality medical-grade acrylic. Ocular prostheses are not to be confused with visual prosthesis, which actually work to restore vision. With an ocular prosthesis, the wearer will be blind on the affected side.

History of the artificial eye

The first known prosthetic eye for humans was found in 2006 in Iran and is estimated to be almost five thousand years old. That eye was made from a close relative of plastic, bitumen, which is a tar-like paste. Eventually, in the 1400s, artificial eyes were actually made out of glass, which was a break-through in terms of appearance. Not a lot is known about artificial eyes during ancient times, but they were apparently common enough for William Shakespeare to be aware of them in the late 1500s since he mentions “glass eyes” in King Lear. In their heyday, in the early 20th century, many glass eyes worn by Americans originated in Europe. German craftsman were typically regarded as the best manufactures of the prosthetic eye during this time. However, due to the circumstances of World Was I, high quality German artificial eyes became harder to obtain. Therefore, between the two world wars, the glass eye found itself competing with a new prosthetic eye made of plastic. The movement from glass to plastic introduced a more affordable prosthetic eye that was capable of being mass-produced.

Modern Ocular Prostheses

Although mass-produced artificial eyes are widely available, many people now opt to have artificial eyes custom made to achieve a closer match for the missing eye. The first step in having an ocular prosthesis created is to be measured. In order to get an accurate measurement, an impression, or mold of the eye socket is made from wax. This impression helps in defining the correct position of the iris, the amount of curvature of the artificial eye, and it's size. And even though prosthetic eyes are manufactured and composed of acrylic, the artisan elements, which were so proudly defined by the German craftsmen of the late 1800s and early 1900s, still remain. In the modern process of prosthetic eye creation, the iris is hand-painted and based on the existing eye of new owner. These modern artisans are called ocularists.

The first step in obtaining an ocular prosthesis is contacting an ocularist. He or she can meet with you to help you determine if an artificial eye is right for you and help you get the process started.

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