Understanding Glaucoma

Your Eyes

The eyes are wonderful sensory organs. They help people learn about the world in which they live. Eyes see all sorts of things - big or small, near or far, smooth or textured, colors and dimensions. The eyes have many parts - all of which must function in order to see properly.

Inside the Eye

In addition to the many sections of the eyeball itself, muscles are attached to the outer walls of the eyeball. The eye muscles are attached to the eyes in order that we can move our eyes. The interactive diagram shows these main parts. If anything goes wrong, such as from diabetic eye disease, an individual might not be able to see as well.

A Complete Picture

Visual information from the retina travels from the eye to the brain via the optic nerve. Because eyes see from slightly different positions, the brain must mix the two images it receives to get a complete picture.

What we think of as seeing is the result of a series of events that occur between the eye, the brain, and the outside world. Light reflected from an object passes through the cornea of the eye, moves through the lens which focuses it, and then reaches the retina at the very back where it meets with a thin layer of color-sensitive cells called the rods and cones. Because the light criss-crosses while going through the cornea, the retina "sees" the image upside down. The brain then "reads" the image right-side up.

How the Eye Sees

The eye is a complex organ composed of many small parts, each vital to normal vision. The ability to see clearly depends on how well these parts work together.

Light rays bounce off objects. If a person is looking at a particular object, such as a tree, light is reflected off the tree to the person's eye and enters the eye through the cornea, the clear, transparent portion of the coating that surrounds the eyeball.

Next, light rays pass through an opening in the iris (the colored part of the eye), called the pupil. The iris controls the amount of light entering the eye by dilating or constricting the pupil. In bright light, for example, the pupils shrink to the size of a pinhead to prevent too much light from entering. In dim light, the pupil enlarges to allow more light to enter the eye.

Light then reaches the crystalline lens. The lens focuses light rays onto the retina by bending (refracting) them. The cornea does most of the refraction and the crystalline lens fine-tunes the focus. In a healthy eye, the lens can change its shape (accommodate) to provide clear vision at various distances. If an object is close, the ciliary muscles of the eye contract and the lens becomes rounder. To see a distant object, the same muscles relax and the lens flattens.

Behind the lens and in front of the retina is a chamber called the vitreous body, which contains a clear, gelatinous fluid called vitreous humor. Light rays pass through the vitreous before reaching the retina. The retina lines the back two-thirds of the eye and is responsible for the wide field of vision that most people experience. For clear vision, light rays must focus directly on the retina. When light focuses in front of or behind the retina, the result is blurry vision.

The retina contains millions of specialized photoreceptor cells called rods and cones that convert light rays into electrical signals that transmitted to the brain through the optic nerve. Rods and cones provide the ability to see in dim light and to see in color, respectively.

The macula, located in the center of the retina, is where most of the cone cells are located. The fovea, a small depression in the center of the macula, has the highest concentration of cone cells. The macula is responsible for central vision, seeing color, and distinguishing fine detail. The outer portion (peripheral retina) is the primary location of rod cells and allows for night vision and seeing movement and objects to the side, i.e. peripheral vision.

The optic nerve, located behind the retina, transmits signals from the photoreceptor cells to the brain. Each eye transmits signals of a slightly different image, and the images are inverted. Once they reach the brain, they are corrected and combined into one image. This complex process of analyzing data transmitted through the optic nerve is called visual processing.

NEXT: What is Glaucoma?

Source: Prevent Blindness America, The Vision Learning Center, www.preventblindness.org.

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