Eye Anatomy

The eyes are the most complex sensory organ in our bodies. The eyes provide vision by recording images of our surroundings that the brain will interpret. Although the eye measures only about an inch in diameter, it helps to visualise and collect information of what is going on around us.

Our eyes work similar to a camera as they have a lens that focuses the incoming light and transforms it into a “picture”. A specialised layer of the eye called the retina acts as a film that helps produce an image.

External Anatomy of the Eye

When we look into the eyes, we can usually see the following structures:

  • Iris: A circular pigmented muscle that gives the eyes colour and controls the size of the pupil by enlarging it in dim light and contracting it in bright light. The central aperture of the iris is known as the pupil. The colour of the iris varies depending on the amount of of melanin and melanocytes.
  • Pupil: An opening within the centre of the iris, the pupil controls the amount of light entering the eye by adjusting its size. It appears black because it is like the opening to a cave.
  • Cornea: The clear, transparent front solid window structure of the eye through which light passes is called the cornea. It covers both the pupil and the iris.
  • Sclera: This is the opaque white outer layer which forms the supporting wall of the eyeball. This layer is in continuity with the cornea at the front to provide the overall solid envelope of the eyeball. The sclera has a hollow at the back for where the nerve fibres from within the retina leave the eye to form the optic nerve.
  • Conjunctiva: The conjunctiva is a thin, transparent mucous membrane which lines the inner eyelid surface as well as the outer surface of the eyeball excluding the cornea. It prevents bacteria and other microbes from entering the eye. It is in turn covered by the tear film which itself has three layers.

Internal Anatomy of the Eye

If we take a cross-section of the eyeball, the following structures can be identified:

  • Three different layers:
  1. External layer: This is made up of the sclera and cornea.
  2. Intermediate layer: The intermediate layer is divided into two parts, anterior and posterior. Anterior part consists of the iris and ciliary body and the posterior part consists of the choroid. Ciliary body is a structure that is made up of the ciliary muscle. It alters the shape of the lens when the eye focuses on an object. The choroid layer, present between the sclera and retina, consists of blood vessels and connective tissue. It provides nourishment to the inner parts of the eye.
  3. Internal layer: This is the sensory part of the eye and is formed by the retina.
  • Three chambers of fluid:
  1. Anterior chamber –present between the cornea and iris.
  2. Posterior chamber –present between the iris, zonule fibers and the lens.
  3. Vitreous chamber– located between the lens and the retina.

The anterior and posterior chambers are filled with aqueous humour, whereas the vitreous chamber is filled with vitreous humour, a more viscous fluid.

  • Lens: The lens helps to focus light on the retina. It is transparent and is located behind the iris. It is supported by numerous fine elastic strands called zonule fibres that are attached to the anterior portion of the ciliary body. The contraction or relaxation of these zonules, as a result of ciliary muscle action, changes the shape and position of the lens. This process is called ‘accommodation’ and allows for the formation of a sharp image on the retina.

Lateral view

  • Retina: The innermost layer of the back of the eye, the retina consists of light-sensitive cells and nerve endings that convert light into electrical impulses which are sent to the brain along the optic nerve. The macula is the central zone of the retina which provides the most central and distinct vision. In the centre of the macula is a region called the fovea which provides the sharpest vision.
  • Nerves and Blood vessels: : The long ciliary nerves are branches of the nasociliary nerve that carries sensory impulses from the cornea and uvea (middle eye layer consisting of iris, ciliary body and choroid). The short ciliary nerves contain fibres that regulates pupil sizes and accommodation. Blood reaches the eye from the ophthalmic artery through its branches– central artery of the retina, short and long posterior ciliary arteries, and the anterior ciliary arteries. The veins of the eye ultimately drain into the cavernous sinus through ophthalmic veins.
  • Optic nerve: Each optic nerve is made up of about a million-nerve fibres in human. It carries visual impulses from the retina to the brain.
  • Optic disc or optic nerve head: Optic disc is a circular area at the back of the eye where the corresponding nerve cell of the retina leaves the eye to become the optic nerve. This area does not respond to light stimulation because of the absence of photoreceptors and is known as “blind spot”.
  • Extraocular Muscles: The eyeball is held in position by various ligaments, fat, and muscles surrounding it. There are three pairs of extraocular muscles. Two pairs are the rectus muscles which include the up (superior), down (inferior), inside (medial), and outside (lateral) muscles. They run along the eyeball and insert into the bony orbit of the skull.

The other 2 muscles are the oblique muscles with its up- down- actions plus rotatory action. The superior oblique helps the inferior rectus in turning the eye down, whilst the inferior oblique muscle helps pull the eye up and towards the nose but without it we can still move eye in that direction.


Normal vision occurs when light rays entering the eyes are focused on the retina. Usually, the light rays entering the eyes are bent or refracted when they pass through the lens.

In conditions where the eyeball is too long, the focused image falls short of the retina, meaning the image forms in front of the retina. This is known as myopia or nearsightedness where farther objects appear unclear.

When the eyeball is too short, it results in hyperopia or farsightedness in which the focused image falls behind the retina. If our eyes are aligned with one another and are equally well focused (including the first year or so of life), we may then develop a sense of depth despite stationary eyes, head, and viewing target, called stereoscopic vision. Not everyone with perfect vision and perfectly aligned eyes have fine stereoscopic vision.

Light rays from objects we see enter our eyes and are focused by the optical structures of the eye including the tear film, cornea, and lens. The light rays then enter the retinal layer at the back of the eye.

The retina is comprised of many layers, one of which is the photoreceptor layer which convert light energy into electrical energy. There are two main types of photoreceptors: cones and rods. The cones are sensitive to light, colour, and visual details such as words on a newspaper or street sign. Rods are responsible for night vision and peripheral vision and are able to detect movements and objects.