Snakes do not have eyelids like we have but instead, they have specially adapted scales over their eyes called eye caps (also known as spectacles) to protect their eyes. These eye caps are normally shed off along with the skin of your snake during their normal shed cycle but sometimes the caps do not come off properly and snakes get retained eye caps. The retained eye caps can cause problems for your snake and need to be removed.
Causes of Retained Eye Caps in Snakes
A common cause of retained eye caps is a lack of humidity in the enclosure or other husbandry issues that contribute to shedding problems for reptiles. Snake mites or infections of the eye or surrounding tissues may also contribute to retained eye caps.
Determining If Your Snake Has Retained Eye Caps
First, always examine the shed skin from your snake. The eye caps should be shed along with the skin which means there should be no holes where the eyes are. If the eye caps are not present on the shed skin then it's possible they fell away separately from the rest of the skin but you should have a close look at your snake's eyes to make sure the eye caps are not still on your snake. Normally snakes have clear eyes except for a short period prior to shedding where they turn a milky blue color. If the eye caps are not shed then your snake may appear to have cloudy or foggy eyes.
However, the appearance of eyes with retained eye caps is variable and not all abnormal looking eyes have retained eye caps so when in doubt consult an exotics veterinarian who is experienced with reptiles.
What to Do If Your Snake Has Retained Eye Caps
There are mixed opinions in the reptile community about the necessity of removing retained eye caps (as opposed to leaving them alone and to allow them to come off with the next shed).
Your best bet is to consult with your reptile veterinarian if you want to know whether or not you should remove the eye caps. Usually, an attempt is made to remove retained eye caps since they could potentially impair your snake's vision (which may make it nervous, aggressive, or reluctant to feed) and also cause the eyes to get infected. Eye caps that are retained by multiple sheds need to be removed regardless, though.
If your snake's eye caps are retained you must re-evaluate your husbandry methods, particularly the humidity levels. Your vet can check your snake for other possible causes of retained eye caps as well (such as mites or other medical concerns).
Removing Retained Eye Caps
It is best to get the help of a reptile veterinarian to remove the eye caps if you are not 100% comfortable working with your snake's eyes as it is important to not do anything that could damage their delicate eyes. Soaking the snake in warm (not too hot) water a couple of times a day (just deep enough to cover your snake's body and supervise it to prevent drowning) may help the eye caps come off. However, if this isn't successful after a day or two, a trip to the vet may be in order.
Many snake owners that are comfortable doing so will take a piece of clear tape, gently but firmly press it onto the snake's retained eye caps, and then slowly and carefully peel it off the snake.
The eye caps should be stuck to the tape when you peel it off. This method can cause harm to a snake though if you stick the tape on the snake's scales or to an eye that does not have retained eye caps. When in doubt, bring your snake to your exotics vet for some help.