People who lose an eye because of anything from injury to cancer have long had the option of getting a prosthetic eye to replace their lost organ. This is a medical tradition that stretches back not just centuries, but millennia.

The earliest false eye

The earliest known evidence of someone with a prosthetic eye dates back to 2900 BC. The remains of an Iranian woman – possibly a priestess – with a fake eye were unearthed. Her eye was made of clay covered in gold, and gold thread was used to hold the eye in place. It’s important to note that, at this time and for thousands of years later, prosthetic eyes were worn on the outside of the socket.

Mummies and prosthetic eyes

While they weren’t used on living patients, prosthetic eyes were used extensively in ancient Egypt during the mummification process.

Spreading across the world

Evidence of Roman and Egyptians wearing prosthetic eyes dates back to about 500 BC, but these, too, were worn outside the socket.

The dawn of modern prostheses

It wasn’t until the late sixteenth century that the modern prosthetic was developed. French surgeon Ambroise Paré is considered the first to develop false eyes that were implanted into the socket, although he did also develop those that rested outside.

At about the same time, Venetian glassblowers were creating glass artificial eyes to replace eyes made from gold, wood, and other materials, although they were very uncomfortable. These techniques were later adapted by the French, then adopted and improved upon by the Germans, who slowly made them more durable. They were also custom-made for individual patients for the first time.

Glass eyes are the most popular version of the prosthetic eye, and “glass eye” is still used as shorthand for prosthetic eyes today.

World War II and plastic

While the German glass eye did make its way to the Americas, World War II put a stop to German imports. So, American doctors needed a new alternative, particularly since many soldiers returned home with eye injuries. A new type of medical-grade plastic called Polymethyl methacrylate, or PMMA, was developed.

Prosthetic eyes today

PMMA proved more durable than glass, and has since replaced glass in nearly all prosthetic eyes (there are, however, some people in Europe who still wear glass eyes). Prosthetic eyes are still uniquely fitted to each patient’s eye socket and designed to be perfect matches to the other eye. Prosthetic eyes are also attached to ocular muscles, allowing for movement of the prosthetic.

Prosthetic eyes at CEENTA

Although artificial eyes date back thousands of years, the ophthalmologists at CEENTA always keep up to date with the most current medical knowledge. If you find yourself facing blurry, strained, or limited vision, make an appointment with us today.

This blog is for informational purposes only. For specific medical questions, please consult your doctor. New patients can make appointments online with our Eye doctors in North and South Carolina. Current patients can also make appointments through myCEENTAchart with physicians they have already seen.


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