Imagine losing sight in one eye due to a severe injury or an aggressive tumor. The thought itself is terrifying. Enucleation, a surgical procedure that removes the entire eye globe, can be a life-saving intervention in such cases. In this blog post, we will delve into the intricacies of enucleation, its history, the differences between enucleation and evisceration, the various indications for the procedure, and the potential risks involved. By the end of this comprehensive overview, you will have a better understanding of enucleation and its role in treating various ocular conditions.

Key Takeaways

  • Enucleation is a reconstructive surgery to remove the entire eye globe, preserving surrounding structures and providing an aesthetically pleasing result.
  • It has seen many refinements over centuries in implant materials and prosthetics.
  • Enucleation is primarily indicated for intraocular tumors, severe eye infections and traumatic injuries. Preoperative preparation, surgical steps & postoperative care are essential for successful outcomes with minimal risks/complications.

Understanding Enucleation

An orbital implant being placed in an eye socket after enucleation surgery

Enucleation is a reconstructive surgery that involves the removal of the entire eye globe while preserving the surrounding orbital structures, such as the eyelids and eye muscles. This procedure is particularly beneficial in cases of suspected intraocular malignancy, as it allows for a histologic examination of the complete globe and optic nerve.

An appropriately sized orbital implant is used in enucleation surgery to ensure a natural aesthetic. An ocular prosthesis, also known as an artificial eye, is then placed over the appropriately sized implant to replace the absent natural eye following the procedure.

History of Enucleation

The history of enucleation dates back to the 1500s, when the first report of the surgical removal of the eye, known as extirpation, was recorded. Enucleation had become widely documented by the mid-1800s. This technique did not involve implant placment..

Modern enucleation techniques have evolved over the years, incorporating the use of porous implants and prosthetic eyes to improve both functional and aesthetic outcomes post-surgery.

Differences between Enucleation and Evisceration

While enucleation and evisceration are both surgical procedures applied to remove an eye, they differ in their approach and indications. Enucleation entails the elimination of the entire eye globe while preserving the surrounding orbital structures, whereas evisceration necessitates the extraction of the contents of the eye, leaving the sclera and extraocular muscles intact. One key difference is that evisceration maintains the optic nerve, whereas enucleation eliminates it.

Evisceration surgery is a procedure that helps treat a blind and painful eye. It is generally done when no intraocular neoplasm is detected. It is contraindicated in cases of intraocular tumor, recent penetrating or perforating ocular trauma, and a phthisical eyeball. Surprisingly, 92% of board-certified ocularists in the United States prefer evisceration over enucleation. One of the theoretical risks associated with evisceration is sympathetic ophthalmia (SO), an autoimmune reaction to uveal antigens in the contralateral eye, which may occur after incomplete removal of uveal tissues during the procedure.

The choice between enucleation and evisceration often depends on the surgeon’s discretion and the specific patient’s condition. In cases of penetrating trauma, for example, the selection is typically determined by the surgeon’s inclination.

Ultimately, the decision between enucleation and evisceration should be based on a thorough discussion between the patient and their healthcare provider, taking into account the benefits and risks of each procedure.

Indications for Enucleation

A surgeon performing enucleation surgery on an eye

The primary indications for enucleation include intraocular tumors, severe eye infections, and traumatic eye injuries.

Each of these indications will be explored in more detail in the subsequent sections.

Intraocular Tumors

Enucleation is often recommended for the management of intraocular neoplasms, such as malignant tumors like intraocular melanoma and retinoblastoma. This approach allows for the removal of the entire tumor, minimizing the risk of recurrence or metastasis. Moreover, enucleation permits histologic examination of the complete globe and optic nerve, which is essential for determining the most appropriate course of treatment.

If enucleation surgery is not performed, the following complications may arise:

  • An intraocular tumor may persist
  • The tumor may migrate to other areas of the body
  • Treatment may become more complicated
  • The patient’s health may be seriously threatened

Therefore, enucleation is a crucial intervention in the management of intraocular malignancies.

Severe Eye Infections

Enucleation is also typically recommended for the management of endophthalmitis, a severe eye infection. In such cases, the infection may deteriorate the eye, causing significant pain and potentially spreading to other areas, further complicating treatment and pain management.

Performing enucleation has several benefits:

  • It removes the source of the infection, minimizing the risk of further complications.
  • It can provide relief from pain and discomfort.
  • It may improve vision in cases where the eye is severely damaged.
  • It can prevent the spread of infection to other parts of the body.

It is important for patients to discuss this treatment option with their healthcare provider in order to determine the most appropriate course of action based on their specific condition.

Traumatic Eye Injuries

An image showing the surgical procedure of enucleation for treating traumatic eye injuries.

Enucleation is also recommended for the management of intraocular neoplasm and as a preventative measure for sympathetic ophthalmia following penetrating trauma. Traumatic eye injuries that can be treated with enucleation include scissor injuries, penetrating ocular traumas, and severe eye injuries resulting from explosions or assaults.

In cases of acute trauma, primary enucleation may be considered, but it is essential to discuss the rare risk of sympathetic ophthalmia in the uninvolved eye with the patient. Primary globe repair is often favored, as it allows the patient to weigh their choices and the advantages and disadvantages of enucleation after the initial trauma. This approach also grants autonomy to choose this operation at a later date, once the patient’s mental state has improved.

The Enucleation Procedure

A surgeon performing a surgical procedure to remove an eye

Enucleation is a multistep procedure that requires careful preoperative preparation, surgical execution, and postoperative care.

A detailed overview of each stage of the enucleation process will be provided in this section.

Preoperative Preparation

Before enucleation surgery, patients undergo a comprehensive physical examination, imaging studies, and laboratory tests. This process helps ensure the safety of the patient and the success of the surgery. Additionally, patients may be instructed to withhold food the night before surgery as a part of the preoperative preparation.

As part of the preoperative preparation, eye drops may also be used in enucleation surgery. Sterile technique is used to minimize the risk of infection. Additionally, systemic antibiotics are administered in both the pre- and post-operative stages.

Surgical Steps

During the enucleation procedure, the patient is administered either general or local anesthesia. The surgery involves the following steps:

  1. Excision of the eyeball
  2. Sealing of the socket
  3. Insertion of an orbital implant
  4. Detachment of the eye muscles from the globe
  5. Performing a 360-degree peritomy, a surgical incision made around the entire circumference of the eye globe
  6. Removal of the entire eye globe, including its contents, while maintaining the conjunctiva, extraocular muscles, and orbital fat.

After the eye globe has been removed, an orbital implant is inserted into the eye socket. This implant is a prosthetic device that is placed in the eye socket to retain the shape of the socket and provide a foundation for a prosthetic eye. The extraocular muscles are attached to the implant, ensuring proper alignment and movement of the prosthetic eye.

Postoperative Care

Following enucleation surgery, patients require close monitoring and care to ensure proper healing and minimize the risk of complications. Pain management is typically addressed with the use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), acetaminophen, and opioids. However, it is important to be aware of the potential side effects associated with opioids, such as nausea, vomiting, constipation, and drowsiness.

Wound care is crucial in the postoperative period, and patients are advised to keep their wound clean and dry, apply a topical antibiotic ointment, and change their dressing regularly. Following these guidelines can help patients minimize the risk of infection, delayed healing, and scarring. Moreover, patients are referred to an ocularist for the fitting of an ocular prosthetic, ensuring a natural appearance and proper function of the prosthetic eye.

Orbital Implants and Prosthetic Eyes

A prosthetic eye being fitted to an eye socket

Beyond the surgical procedure itself, the types of orbital implants and prosthetic eyes employed in enucleation are significant considerations for both patients and healthcare providers, especially when it comes to avoiding implant exposure and implant migration.

The various materials and designs of these devices and their impact on the overall success of the enucleation procedure will be explored in this section.

Types of Orbital Implants

Orbital implants are designed to fill the eye socket and provide a foundation for a prosthetic eye following enucleation surgery. There are two primary types of orbital implants: integrated and non-integrated. Integrated implants are supplied with a blood supply from the body, whereas non-integrated implants do not. Integrated implants are typically composed of artificial materials such as ceramics and polymers, whereas non-integrated implants are typically composed of polymethylmethacrylate (PMMA).

Porous polyethylene is another material used for orbital implants, offering a lower cost and the capacity to affix the extraocular muscles directly to the implant. Other materials and designs of orbital implants include silicone, hydroxyapatite implants, titanium, and pegging hydroxyapatite orbital implants.

Prosthetic Eye Fitting and Care

After enucleation and orbital implant placement, patients undergo the process of fitting a prosthetic eye. This involves:

  1. Measuring the eye socket
  2. Selecting the appropriate size and shape of the prosthetic eye
  3. Fitting the prosthetic eye into the eye socket
  4. Forming the prosthetic eye to match the color and appearance of the remaining eye, ensuring a natural and symmetrical appearance.

To maintain the appearance and function of the prosthetic eye, it is essential for patients to regularly consult with both an oculoplastic surgeon and an ocularist. These professionals aid in preserving the integrity of the socket and ensuring the prosthetic eye remains comfortable and functional.

Potential Complications and Risks

A surgeon performing a surgical procedure to remove an eye

Like any surgical procedure, enucleation is accompanied by potential complications and risks. This section will delve into the possible complications that can occur during and post-enucleation, as well as factors that can heighten the chances of these complications.

These complications can range from minor to severe, and may include infection, bleeding, and damage to

Intraoperative Complications

Intraoperative complications during enucleation surgery may include hemorrhage, infection, and damage to adjacent structures. Other potential complications include globe perforation, vitreous loss, and retinal detachment. Risk factors for intraoperative complications may include advanced age, pre-existing ocular conditions, and the presence of a tumor.

Healthcare providers manage intraoperative complications by controlling bleeding, repairing any damage, and administering antibiotics to ward off infection. To avert intraoperative complications, preoperative planning must be conducted with due diligence, surgical technique must be employed correctly, and the patient must be closely monitored throughout the procedure.

Postoperative Complications

Postoperative Complications
Wound separation
Extrusion of the conformer
Contraction of the fornices
Exposure of the implant
Extrusion of the implant
Scar formation
Eyelid issues such as droop

Minimizing the risk of postoperative complications involves patients adhering to their healthcare providers’ guidelines for wound care, pain management, and follow-up appointments. By adhering to these guidelines, patients can maximize their chances of a successful recovery and optimal aesthetic outcome.

Alternative Treatments and Considerations

A prosthetic eye being fitted to an eye socket

While enucleation serves as an effective treatment for numerous ocular conditions, some patients may find alternative treatments more suitable.

This section will explore evisceration and other potential treatment options for individuals contemplating enucleation.


Evisceration is a surgical procedure that involves the removal of the intraocular contents of the eye while leaving the sclera and extraocular muscles intact. This alternative to enucleation offers superior functional and cosmetic results, as well as better pain management. The primary indications for evisceration include the treatment of a blind, painful eye that has been determined not to contain an intraocular neoplasm.

However, there are potential risks associated with evisceration, such as the rare possibility of sympathetic ophthalmia following incomplete removal of uveal tissues during the procedure. Patients considering evisceration should discuss the benefits and risks of this procedure with their healthcare provider to determine if it is the most appropriate treatment option for their specific condition.

Other Treatment Options

In addition to enucleation and evisceration, other potential treatment options are available for patients with various eye conditions, such as:

  • Refractive surgery
  • Antibiotic eye drops or ointments
  • Anti-VEGF injections
  • Surgical solutions for conditions like age-related macular degeneration and retinal tears
  • Specific treatments for disorders like amblyopia and strabismus

Patients should consult their healthcare provider to get personalized advice and guidance on the most suitable treatment option for their specific condition.


Throughout this comprehensive overview, we have explored the history, indications, procedure, and potential complications and risks associated with enucleation. We have also discussed alternative treatments such as evisceration and other options for patients considering enucleation. As with any surgical procedure, it is vital for patients to consult with their healthcare provider to determine the most appropriate course of action based on their individual condition and needs.

With a clear understanding of enucleation and its role in treating various ocular conditions, patients can make informed decisions about their eye health and work towards achieving the best possible outcome. Remember, knowledge is power, and by staying informed, you can take control of your eye health and well-being.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the purpose of enucleation?

Enucleation is a procedure used to remove the eye in cases of trauma, intraocular tumours, severe infection, and autoimmune conditions. This operation seeks to remove diseased tissue, improve patient comfort, replace orbital volume, and provide a good functional and cosmetic result.

How painful is eye enucleation?

Eye enucleation can cause mild discomfort, as it involves applying pressure to a sensitive area and the muscles in the enucleated eye will still move when the seeing eye does.

Can you see after enucleation?

Sadly, after enucleation vision cannot be regained. However, most people can still see with their remaining eye and still do the activities they used to do with prosthetics.

What causes enucleation of the eye?

Neoplasm, neovascular glaucoma, acute eye injury, atrophy of the eyeball, trauma without visual potential, intraocular malignancy or high suspicion for intraocular malignancy, end stage eye disease, and an otherwise degenerated blind and/or painful eye are the most common causes of enucleation.

What does evisceration injury mean?

Evisceration is a rare surgical complication in which the abdominal organs protrude through the surgical incision due to it opening (dehiscence).


  1. Enucleation – StatPearls – NCBI Bookshelf
    • Description: Enucleation is the removal of the eye from the orbit and involves the separation of all tissue connections between the globe and the orbit.
  2. Enucleation – EyeWiki – American Academy of Ophthalmology
    • Description: Enucleation is the surgical procedure that involves removal of the entire globe and its intraocular contents, with preservation of all other periorbital and…
  3. Enucleation – PubMed
    • Description: Enucleation describes the removal of the entire globe, with separation of all connections from the orbit, including optic nerve transection.
  4. Enucleation of the eye – Wikipedia
    • Description: Enucleation is the removal of the eye that leaves the eye muscles and remaining orbital contents intact. This type of ocular surgery is indicated for a…
  5. What Is Enucleation Surgery? – Cleveland Clinic
    • Description: Enucleation of the eye means removal of your eye. The surgery treats serious diseases and severe pain or provides a better appearance.


Photo graph of Dr. Conlon operating with loops on.

Dr. M. Ronan Conlon started his career in the field of ophthalmology at the same time as the development of refractive eye surgery in Canada. In 1996, he brought laser technology to Canada from Germany, which allowed him to perform laser eye surgery before it was available in the United States. With the establishment of the Conlon Eye Institute, Dr. Conlon has performed more than 40,000 refractive procedures and has advanced his expertise in LASIK and refractive cataract surgery.

The information on this page should not be used in place of information provided by a doctor or specialist.


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