Eye Health: Anatomy of the Eye
About the Eye and How It Works
To understand this diagram of the eye, try to picture it as being split in two, like an apple that’s been cut in half. Imagine yourself looking into the eye from the cut side.
The cornea is a transparent dome-shaped tissue that forms the front part of your eye.
It functions as a window and allows light to enter your eye. It also begins focusing light rays that allow you to see words and images. The cornea provides 65-75% of your eye’s focusing power.
The cornea contains no blood vessels but many nerve endings, making it extremely sensitive. That is why a scratch or a loose eyelash is so painful.
Jake Whalen: Living and Coping with Keratoconus
Jake Whalen is a freelance copywriter who has struggled for most of his life with keratoconus.
Keratoconus is a degenerative condition of the cornea, a transparent dome-shaped tissue that forms the front part of the eye. Keratoconus gradually causes the cornea to thin, bulge/protrude outward, and become cone-shaped. This creates an abnormal curvature of the eye that can cause blurred vision, glare problems, light sensitivity, and even extreme pain.
Learn more about the basics of effective eye care, including:
- The difference between normal eye and vision changes and symptoms of vision problems
- The different types of eye care professionals
- Questions to ask when you see an eye care specialist
Aqueous humor is a clear, watery fluid in two chambers behind the cornea that helps bring nutrients to the eye tissues. The ciliary body, a tissue ring behind the iris, produces it.
As it circulates, the aqueous fluid flows to the front part of the eye, which is drained by the trabecular meshwork, a sponge-like filtering system where the cornea and iris meet. After draining through the trabecular meshwork, the aqueous fluid then passes through a tiny duct called the canal of Schlemm, and is absorbed into the bloodstream.
The health of your eye depends upon a continuous process of production, flow, and drainage of this aqueous fluid. Any interruption of this process can lead to problems with increased pressure inside the eye, such as glaucoma.
The sclera is a tough white outer coating of fibrous tissue covering your entire eyeball (all around) except for the cornea. The muscles that move the eye are attached to the sclera. Sclera comes from the Greek word “skleros,” which means “hard.”
The Iris and the Pupil
The iris is a ring-shaped membrane inside the eye that surrounds an opening in the center called the pupil. The iris contains muscles that allow the pupil to become larger (open up or dilate) and smaller (close up or constrict). The iris regulates the amount of light that enters your eye by adjusting the size of the pupil opening.
In bright light, the iris closes (or constricts) and makes the pupil opening smaller to restrict the amount of light that enters your eye.
The iris in bright light
In dim light, the iris opens (or dilates) and makes the pupil opening larger to increase the amount of light that enters your eye:
In addition, it is the iris that determines your eye color. People with brown eyes have heavily pigmented irises, while people with blue or lighter-colored eyes have irises with less pigment.
The lens comprises transparent, flexible tissue and is located directly behind the iris and the pupil. The second part of your eye, after the cornea, helps to focus light and images on your retina.
Because the lens is flexible and elastic, it can change its curved shape to focus on objects and people nearby or at a distance. The lens provides 25-35% of your eye’s focusing power.
The ciliary muscles, part of the ciliary body, are attached to the lens and contract or release to change the lens shape and curvature.
The lens becomes more rounded to focus on near objects (see Figure 1):
Fig. 1: A more rounded lens can focus on near objects.
The lens becomes more elongated (or stretched) to focus on objects that are far away (see Figure 2):
Fig. 2: A more elongated/stretched lens can focus on far objects
Over time, the lens loses some of its elasticity and therefore loses some of its ability to focus on near objects. This is called presbyopia and explains why people need reading glasses as they age.
The choroid is a dark brown membrane that is rich in blood vessels located between the sclera and the retina. It supplies blood and nutrients to the retina and nourishes all other structures within the eye.
The vitreous is the jelly-like substance that fills the inside of the back part of the eye. Over time, the vitreous becomes more liquid and can detach from the back of the eye, creating floaters. If you notice new floaters or flashing lights, it is important to see your eye doctor, because a detached vitreous can cause a hole (a condition called a macular hole) to develop in the retina.
The Retina and Optic Nerve
The retina is the light-sensitive tissue that lines the inside surface of the eye, much like wallpaper. Cells in the retina convert incoming light into electrical impulses. These electrical impulses are carried by the optic nerve (which resembles your television cable) to the brain, which finally interprets them as visual images.
The macula is the small sensitive area in the retina’s center that provides clear central vision. The fovea is located in the center of the macula and provides the sharpest detail vision.
Some Facts about the Retina
The retina is the light-sensitive tissue that lines the inside surface of the eye.
The retina contains photoreceptor cells that convert (or process) incoming light into electrical impulses. These electrical impulses are carried by the optic nerve (which resembles your television cable) to the brain, which finally interprets them as visual images.
There are two types of photoreceptors: rods and cones, the light-processing cells responsible for peripheral (side) and central (straight-ahead) vision.
- The specialized, highly light-sensitive retinal processing cells are able to function in low light levels. They provide peripheral (or side) vision, are responsible for dark adaptation, and are most sensitive to movement/motion. They are less sensitive to color perception.
- A normal retina contains approximately 120-150 million rods, primarily in the peripheral or outer retina.
- Rods provide scotopic vision, which refers to eyesight in low-light conditions.
- The specialized retinal processing cells function in bright light levels and provide central (or straight-ahead) vision, along with sharp visual acuity, detail, and color vision. They require bright light to function and are not sensitive to lower light levels.
- A normal retina contains approximately 6-7 million cones, primarily in the macula, the small area in the center of the retina that provides clear central vision. Cones are the most concentrated in the fovea, located in the center of the macula and provides the sharpest detail vision.
- Cones provide photopic vision, which refers to eyesight in daylight conditions.
Additional Eye Diagrams
Healthline.com provides an interactive Human Eye in 3D online tool that can help you understand how the parts of the eye work with each other.
Edited by Maureen A. Duffy, M.S., CVRT