Artificial Eyes

By Nancy Steinbach

This is the VOA Special English SCIENCE REPORT.

Losing an eye is a very frightening experience. Most often this is a result of a serious injury or a disease such as glaucoma or cancer.

The American Academy of Ophthalmology says this problem affects about eighteen-thousand Americans each year. It also affects many other people around the world. Such patients usually are fitted with a false eye, called an ocular prosthesis.

Ancient Romans and Egyptians made the first false eyes. Those eyes were made of painted clay attached to cloth and were worn outside the body. It was hundreds of years before artificial eyes fit into the hole in the bone where the eye had been.

Glassmakers in Venice, Italy started making eyes from glass in the sixteenth century. The center for making glass eyes later moved to France, then to Germany. After World War Two, the German glass could no longer be imported into the United States. So American companies began making false eyes out of a kind of plastic.

Today, a trained technician known as an ocularist makes artificial eyes. Most of them are made of acrylic plastic material. The ocularist sees the patient after a doctor has removed the eye and replaced it with an artificial eyeball called an implant. The implant lies toward the back of the eye. The false eye will be in front of it.

The ocularist fills the eye area with a thick substance that is used to make a wax model of the eye. Then plastic material is used to build the false eye. The ocularist paints the prosthesis to look like the patient's other eye. The ocularist shows the patient how to handle and care for the prosthesis, and provides long term care for the device. The prosthesis is held in place by the eyelid, and washed with normal tears. Patients generally remove the prosthesis every few weeks to clean it.

There is no school that trains ocularists. People who want to learn this skill must work with a legally approved ocularist. Then they must pass a test before going into business. About one-hundred ocularists make false eyes in the United States. Ocularists also work in several other countries. These include Australia, Belgium, Britain, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela and Yugoslavia.

This VOA Special English SCIENCE REPORT was written by Nancy Steinbach.

Voice of America Special English