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Frequently asked questions

Anyone, rich or poor, old or young, male or female. In New Zealand, prosthetic eye wearers lost their eye due to accidents (61%), medical conditions like cancer or glaucoma (30%) and congenital disorders such as microphthalmia (9%). Men lost their eyes more frequently than women (62% versus 38%) and at a younger age (the median age for men is 22 years and women 56 years). Right eyes are lost marginally more frequently than left eyes (55% versus 45%). The causes of eye loss are changing however as significantly less people are now losing their eyes through accidents. This is because of safer roads and better workplace practices.

About 3000 people wear prosthetic eyes in New Zealand – one in 1440 people in the general population.

When patients first lose their eye their initial problems involve getting used to judging distance and reduced side vision, and getting good advice. Patients whose occupations involve face to face contact with the public are more concerned about their appearance and reduced visual range than those whose jobs do not involve the public. After a couple of years the initial problems become less important and concerns about socket discharge (sleep in the eye) and shrinkage of the orbital tissues take their place. The good news is that modern surgical techniques are available to counter the shrinkage and good prosthetic eye care reduces the discharge.

Adults should replace their artificial eyes every 5 to 8 years to keep pace with changes to the socket. Childrens’ eyes are replaced every 2 or 3 years to keep pace with growth.

Not more frequently than monthly and not less frequently than six monthly.

For Three hundred years prosthetic eyes were made of glass and fitted by optometrists. When plastic was invented in the 1930s it was quickly adopted by dental technicians as a denture base material. It was then found to be a better material than glass for making prosthetic eyes. This is why most prosthetic eyes today are made and fitted by members of the dental profession rather than by members of the optometry profession.

I was fortunate to have the opportunity to train as a maxillofacial prosthetist while employed as a dental technician at the Plastic Surgical Dental Unit at Middlemore Hospital in Auckland. I trained for a further year at Queen Mary’s Hospital, East Grinstead, England. This is where New Zealanders Sir Archibald McIndoe and then Sir Harold Gillies pioneered many plastic surgical techniques when treating wounded soldiers in WW1 and WW2.

I’ve always been enthusiastic about ocular prosthetics and later completed a BSc in psychology to help me give proper advice to patients. I have also completed a PhD thesis entitled “The Response of the Anophthalmic Socket to Artificial Eye Wear” and written a book entitled “Clinical Ocular Prosthetics”

Modern prosthetic eyes are made of (poly) methyl methacrylate (PMMA) – a medical grade of perspex. Denture bases are made of the same material.

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