Before you leave hospital your nurses will show you how to clean and care for your eye socket. You may also have a temporary plastic shell (conformer) in your socket. Your nurse will show you how to look after this. It often helps to have a relative or friend with you when the nurses show you what to do. They can help you and remind you when you get home.
You might find it hard to do all this for yourself at first. It can be distressing and you will need time to adjust. If you don’t feel able to cope with it, the ward can arrange a district nurse to visit you at home.
Cleaning the area around the eye socket
Always wash your hands before you touch the area around your empty socket. Don’t touch the eye socket itself. You will need to regularly clean your eyelids and remove any mucus. To do this, boil some water and allow it to cool. Moisten clean cotton balls in the cooled, boiled water and use them to wipe your eyelids clean.
Always start with the part of the eye nearest your nose and wipe towards your ear. If you need to wipe several times, use a new, moistened cotton ball each time you wipe. Tell your doctor or nurse if you find you are getting a lot of mucus on your eyelids. You might have an infection and need antibiotics.
Caring for the conformer
A conformer is a clear plastic or painted lens which the surgeon puts into your eye socket to hold the shape of your eye. If you have a conformer in your empty eye socket, you will also need to clean this. At first this may be twice a day but your nurse will let you know about this before you leave the hospital.
Take the shell out of your eye socket, wash it in soapy water, rinse it well and put it back. It’s possible for the shell to fall out but this is very rare. If it does fall out, clean it as you normally would and put it back in place.
Before you leave hospital your doctor or nurse will prescribe some eye drops to use for a few weeks. These are to help prevent infection. You won’t need to remove the artificial shell to put your eye drops in.
Getting your artificial eye (prosthesis)
Once your eye heals, you will see a specialist who makes artificial eyes (an ocular prosthetist or ocularist). This is usually about 4 to 6 weeks after your operation.
These specialists have a range of artificial eyes already made. You have one of these fitted as a temporary artificial eye (prosthesis). This temporary eye won’t exactly match your other eye but it will be as similar as possible.
Before fitting your temporary eye, the prosthetist will make a mould of your eye socket. They use this to make your permanent artificial eye. It is not painful but may feel a bit strange. They will also match the colour of your other eye using paint on the mould. The whole procedure takes about 2 hours.
The prosthetist will give you an appointment to have your permanent artificial eye fitted. This might be some weeks ahead because the artificial eyes are individually made.
Once your permanent artificial eye is in place it is very difficult for other people to tell the difference between your normal eye and the artificial one. It should look very similar to your other eye and also have some movement.
You will be shown how to clean and care for the eye. It is very rare that an artificial eye gets lost or needs replacing.
Living with an artificial eye
If you have an artificial eye you can do most things as normal. When you sleep it is better to leave your artificial eye in place. As soon as the eye socket heals you can wear eye make up and play sport as normal. But you should always wear goggles when swimming. If you dive or ski, doctors advise that you wear goggles or remove your artificial eye to prevent losing it.
You won’t be able to see to your left and right as well as before, without turning your head. This is called your range of vision. Remember to turn your head more frequently. It is also more difficult to judge distance with only one eye.
Some people may feel that their eye is still there. Or they may see things that are not really there. Doctors call these visual hallucinations. Don’t worry if this happens. It is only temporary.
You don’t need to tell the DVLA if you have lost the sight in one eye if you are still able to meet the standards of vision for driving. Your doctor or optician can let you know when you are fully adapted to seeing with one eye. And they can measure your eyesight, including your field of vision, to make sure you are safe to drive.
If you have a bus, coach or lorry licence you must tell the DVLA if you have lost your sight in one eye.
Getting help and support
Losing your eye and changes to your vision are big changes to go through. You are likely to feel a range of emotions, such as shock, anger, sadness, frustration, and possibly depression and grief. Although these are normal reactions they are still difficult to cope with.
It’s really important that you give yourself time to adjust to the changes. It will get better but it takes time and patience. If you can, talk to people close to you during this time. Just letting others know how you are feeling and having them there to support you can make a big difference.
You also have to come to terms with changes in the way you look, even if other people don’t always notice that you have an artificial eye. Whatever the reaction of others, this can take time to come to terms with. If surgery has scarred your face you may be able to have further surgery to help correct this. It is important that you talk to your doctor about any questions or worries you have.