The Human Eye
The Eye is the organ of sight. Eyes enable people to perform daily tasks and to learn about the world that surrounds them. Sight, or vision, is a rapidly occurring process that involves continuous interaction between the eye, the nervous system, and the brain. When someone looks at an object, what he/she is really seeing is the light that the object reflects, or gives off. This reflected light passes through the lens and falls on to the retina of the eye. Here, the light induces nerve impulses that travel through the optic nerve to the brain, where it makes an image of the object, and then that image is passed on to muscles and glands.The eye is well protected. It lies within a bony socket of the skull. The eyelids guard it in front. They blink an average of once every six seconds. This washes the eye with the salty secretion from the tear, or lachrymal, glands. Each tear gland is about the size and shape of an almond. These glands are located behind the upper eyelid at the outer corner of the eye. After passing over the eye, the liquid from the gland is drained into the nose through the tear duct at the inner corner of the eye.Heavy laughter or crying causes muscles in the upper eyelid to squeeze the lachrymal gland. This produces tears that flow too fast to be drained away. The eyelashes catch many flying particles that otherwise would enter the eye. As further protection, the eyelids automatically close when an object suddenly moves close to the eye.Parts Of the EyeThe eye is made of 3 coats, or tunics. The outermost coat consists of the cornea and the sclera. The middle coat contains the main blood supply to the eye and consists of the choroid, the ciliary body, and the Iris. The innermost layer is the retina.Cornea and ScleraThe Sclera, or the white of the eye, is composed of tough fibrous tissue. On the exposed area of the eye the scleral surface is covered with a mucous membrane called the conjunctiva. This protects the eye from becoming dry.The Cornea, a part of the sclera, is the transparent window of the eye through which light passes. The focusing of the light begins in the cornea.Behind the Cornea is a watery fluid called the aqueous humor. This fluid fills a curved, crescent shaped space, thick in the center and thinner toward the edges. The cornea and the aqueous humor together make an outer lens that refracts, or bends, light and directs it toward the center of the eye.IrisBehind the aqueous humor is a colored ring called the iris. The color of the iris is inherited and does not affect vision. The iris is like a muscular curtain that opens and closes. It controls the amount of light entering the eye through the pupil, an opening in the iris. The pupil looks like a black spot. Light from everything a person sees must go through the pupil. When more or less light is needed to see better, the pupil becomes larger or smaller through the movement of the muscle in the iris. The aqueous humor flows through the pupil into a small space between the iris and the lens.A simple way to see how the pupils respond to light is to stand in front of a mirror with your eyes closed, covered by your hands for about 10 seconds. When your hands are removed and your eyes open, the pupils begin to get smaller, or contract, in response to the light. When the light is reduced, your pupils expand; when it is increased, they contract.The choroid is a layer of blood vessels and connective tissue squeezed between the sclera and the retina. It supplies nutrients to the eye. The ciliary body is a muscular structure that changes the shape of the lens.LensBehind the pupil and iris are the crystalline lens and the ciliary muscle. The muscle holds the lens in place and changes its shape. The lens is a colorless, nearly transparent double convex structure, similar to an ordinary magnifying glass. Its only function is to focus light rays onto the retina. The lens is made of elongated cells that have no blood supply. These cells obtain nutrients from the surrounding fluids – the aqueous humor in front and the vitreous body, a clear jelly, behind.The shape of the lens – essentially that of a flattened globe – can be changed by the movement of the ciliary muscles surrounding it. Therefore, the eye can focus clearly on objects at widely varying distances. The ability of the lens to adjust from a distant and a near focus is called accommodation. By contracting, the ciliary muscle pushes the lens to make it thicker in the middle. By relaxing, the muscle pulls the lens and flattens it. To see objects clearly when they are close to the eyes the lens is squeezed together and thickened. To see distant objects clearly it is flattened. For people with normal vision, the relaxed ciliary muscle flattens the lens enough to bring objects into sharp focus if they are 20 feet or more from the eye. To see closer objects clearly, the ciliary muscle must contract in order to thicken the lens. Young children can see objects clearly at distances as close as 2 1/2 inches. After about age 45 most people must have objects farther and farther away in order to see them clearly. The lens becomes less elastic as a person grows older.RetinaThe retina is a soft, transparent layer of nervous tissue made up of millions of light receptors. The retina is connected to the brain by the optic nerve. All of the structures needed to focus light onto the retina and to nourish it are housed in the eye, which is primarily a supporting shell for the retina.When light enters the eye it passes through the lens and focuses an image onto the retina. The retina has several layers, one of which contains special cells named for their shapes – rods and cones. Light sensitive chemicals in the rods and cones react to specific wavelengths of light and trigger nerve impulses. These impulses are carried through the optic nerve to the visual center in the brain. Here, they are interpreted, and sight occurs.Light must pass through the covering layers of the retina to reach the layer of rods and cones. There are about 75 to 150 million cones in the human retina. Rods do not detect lines, points, or color. They perceive only light and dark tones in an image. The sensitive rods can determine outlines of objects in almost complete darkness. They make it possible for people to see in darkness or at night. Cones are the keenest of the retina’s receptor cells. They detect the fine lines and points of an image. The cones, for example, make it possible to read these words. There are three types of cones that receive color sensations. One type absorbs light best in wavelengths of blue-violet and another in wavelengths of green; a third is sensitive to wavelengths of yellow and red.How Two Eyes Can Work TogetherMost individuals use both eyes to see an object. This type of sensory perception is known as binocular vision. Thus, two images of the object are formed – one of the retina of each eye. Impulses from both images are sent to the brain. Through experience these impulses are interpreted as two views of the same object. Because the eyes are about 2 1/2 inches apart from pupil to pupil and therefore are looking at the object from different angles, the 2 views are not exactly alike. This is known as the stereoscopic effect. If the object is far away, the difference between the images is slight. If it is a few inches away, the difference is very great. The brain makes good use of the phenomenon. It learns to judge the distance of an object by the degree of difference between the images it receives from the two eyes. In the same way, the brain perceives what is called perspective. It estimates differences in distance between two different objects or between two parts of the same object. The eyes are turned up, down and sideways by long muscles. At one end these muscles are attached to the bony walls of the eye socket. They are regulated with the most delicate precision so that normally they turn both eyes toward the same object at exactly the same time.Organic DisordersThe conjunctiva, the membrane lining the inner surface of the eyelids and the exposed surface of the sclera, can become irritated and inflamed. This is called conjunctivitis, and is caused by viral infections or by exposure to smoke, dust, or similar irritants. A common disorder of the eyelid, particularly in children, is a sty – an infection in the small glands of the eyelash. It is caused by the growth of bacteria and results in reddening and swelling of the entire eyelid.A cataract is a cloudy discoloration in the lens of the eye. It can develop until the entire lens is covered with a thin, milky film. Treatment for cataract usually involves surgery, after which the patient is fitted with special glasses.Glaucoma is a fairly common disorder caused by an increase in pressure within the eyeball. It can result from heredity, tumors, and other causes. Headache, blurred vision, and eye pain are symptoms of glaucoma. Many treatments are used, and it is sometimes necessary to perform surgery to relieve the pressure.Retinitis pigmentosa is an inherited eye disease in which the retinal pigments degenerate. In the course of the disease, the rods are destroyed early, causing night blindness in youth. Deterioration of the retina is progressive. Eventually the affected person sees objects as if looking through a narrow pipe. This stage is followed by complete blindness.Diabetes, treated or untreated, may cause serious eye complications. The most common condition occurs in people who have had the disease for a long time. The blood vessels of the retina expand and bleed into the retina. In later stages the bleeding becomes more extensive and eventually the retina becomes detached. These changes invariably lead to blindness. The actual cause of the changes in vessels of the retina is still unknown.Both benign and malignant eye tumors are usually extremely serious. They not only damage the eye but may also invade the brain.Optical DefectsSome eyes are abnormally long from front to back. The lens, even when stretched to the utmost, cannot bring distant objects to a focus on the retina. Nearsightedness, or myopia, is the result. This defect is corrected by wearing a concave, or negative, spectacle lens. This lens, together with the convex lens of the eye, makes an optical system of longer focus.When the distance between the front and the back of the eye is too short, the lens cannot bring near objects to a focus. This is a form of farsightedness called hypermetropia. The condition is corrected by shortening the focus with a convex or positive lens.In many eyes the cornea is deformed so that its surface is oval instead of spherical. Light rays are distorted at the entrance of the eye. This produces a blurred image and is known as astigmatism. To correct it, glasses are given a nonspherical or cylindrical curvature. Cross-eyes and walleyes are produced when both eyes do not work together because of weakness of the eye muscles. The images formed on the two retinas are so unlike that they cannot be blended in the brain. Thus, a double image is perceived. The condition is known as diplopia, or double vision. Prismatic lenses are prescribed to correct this defect.Imperfections in the cones of the retina, resulting from heredity or disease, cause defective color vision. This is known as color blindness, or Daltonism. In total color blindness, everything appears in shades of gray. In its more common from, color blindness is the inability to distinguish between reds and greens.Persistent headaches, blurred vision, and painful inflammation of the eyelids are symptoms that may indicate serious eye disorders. Particles lodged in the eye should be removed without delay. Glasses are prescribed to strengthen vision and to reduce strain and fatigue.