Like adults, there are a variety of reasons why children might need to have an artificial eye, also called an ocular prosthesis. Many children must have an eye removed because of injury or as a part of a treatment of eye disease such as cancer; but some children are born either without an eye or with an abnormally formed eye that must be removed. In these cases, it is especially important that infants who are missing an eye be fitted for an ocular prosthesis to encourage normal growth and development of the bones and tissues surrounding the eye socket. This will help ensure symmetry with the other eye as the child’s facial structure changes during growth.
When should a child get an ocular prosthesis?
It is generally not recommended for children under six months of age wear an ocular prosthesis; however, children under six months should be fitted with a conformer in order to increase the size of the eye socket, or the orbital volume, as the child grows. A conformer is made from clear plastic and can be changed every month or two to increasingly larger sizes to stimulate the growth of the bones and tissues of the eye socket, making it possible for a child to receive an ocular prosthesis later.
Sometimes, children are born with a small eye orbit. This is called microphthalmia and with this condition, the eye socket and lid opening of one eye are dramatically smaller than that of the companion eye. When this occurs, conformers can be used to stretch the eye socket so that it matches the other eye before an ocular prosthesis is created for this eye. This should be done as early as possible. If this critical window is missed, it is much more difficult for the child to get an artificial eye later and the prosthesis will not appear as natural.
How long does an artificial eye last in children?
In adults wearing artificial eyes, the eye should be replaced approximately every three to five years to ensure comfort and symmetry with the companion eye; but with children, the eye will need to be replaced more frequently. Like the rest of a child’s body, the muscles and bones of the eye socket change rapidly as the child grows. The eye can need to be replaced as often as every few months, not only to keep the eye looking like the other eye, but also to maintain a healthy growth in the surrounding eye socket.
Frequent modifications to the prosthesis not only help the child’s face develop normally, but they are particularly helpful for the appearance and self-esteem of the child. With proper and frequent updates to an ocular prosthesis, a child can go through childhood and adolescence with minimal differences from children with both eyes. Although an ocular prosthesis does not restore vision, ocularists are able to so closely simulate the look of a natural eye, that artificial eyes can go unnoticed when they are properly maintained and updated.