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Eyes - how your eyes work

sight; reflection; eye parts; eye; eyesight; retina; lens; eyelash; eyebrow; tear; focus; iris; pupil; sclera; cornea; optic nerve; eyelid;?eyeball; blind spot; light ;


Your eyes are like a wonderful kind of camera.
They take pictures of the world around you and send the pictures to your brain. Your brain works out what your eyes are seeing. This happens from the moment that you open your eyes in the morning to when you close your eyes at night.

How a camera works

cameraThe light rays from an something that the camera is pointed at pass through the lens of the camera and show up on the screen of the camera (or smart phone) and get recorded in the computer in the camera or phone.

Do you notice something about this drawing? Yes, the picture that is recorded by the camera is upside down (of course, when you look at the picture on the phone or camera screen, it is not upside down.)

How your eyes work

Your eye works in a similar way to a camera - light from something you are looking at passes through the lens of your eye and is picked up by special cells on the back of your eye (the retina).

how eyes work

Do you notice something about this drawing? Yes, the 'picture' that your eye 'takes' is upside down too!

Why don't you see things upside down?

Well, your eye sends the picture to the visual processing part of your brain, and your brain turns that picture the right way up so you see things the right way up.

Inside your eye

What are the parts of your eye and what do they do?

diagram - parts of the eye

Cornea (Cor-nee-a)
This is the layer that covers the front of your eye. It is clear like glass and it has no blood vessels in it. It focuses the light that is coming in through it, and with the lens it makes sure that the image that reaches the back of the eye is in focus.

Sclera (Sk-ler-a)
This is the tough white skin which covers the outside of the eyeball (except for the see-through cornea). We call it the 'white' of the eye.

Iris (eye-ris)
The iris controls the amount of light that enters the eye. The iris is the coloured part of your eye.

 Pupil (pew-pil)
This is the hole in the middle of the coloured iris. It lets light into your eye.  It gets very small in bright light, and bigger in dull light.

The lens
The lens helps the cornea to focus light onto the retina. It changes shape (getting thinner or thicker) to make sure that the 'picture' on the retina is as clear as possible.

Retina (Ret-in-a)
This is like the sensors in your camera which pick up the picture it is aimed at s- upside down, remember? The retina has two lots of cells called 'rods' and 'cones' (because that is what they look like.) Rods can 'see' black and white.  Cones can 'see' colours. They turn the picture into an electrical message for the brain. Sometimes people don't see all the colours - look at our topic 'Colour blindness' to find out more.

Blind spot
This is a bit of your retina which is not sensitive to light because there are no rods or cones there. It is the spot where the optic nerve is joined on to the retina.

Optic nerve (op-tic)
The electrical messages from the retina travel along the optic nerve to your brain. It's a bit like the cable that carries all the TV pictures from your aerial to your TV so that you can see the programs. The great thing is that our eyes take these 'movies' all the time and we don't need any TV, camera or phone.

outer eye partsEyelids
These protect your eyes. The eyelids can shut out light so that you can sleep. They will shut very fast if they feel something that is trying to get into your eye. Eyelids blink so they can keep a moist film over the cornea - keeping it healthy.

Eyelashes can catch dust coming and they trap it as your eyelids close.

Eyebrows also help to keep dust and sweat out of your eyes. The eyebrows of humans don't do much work, but many animals have thick and long eyebrow hairs that do help keep a lot of dust out of their eyes.

Tear glands
eyesThese are small glands inside your upper eye lid. Their job is to make tears to keep the surface of your eyeball clean and moist, and help protect your eye from damage.

When you blink, your eyelids spread the tears over the surface of the eye. Small things that are on your eye (like specks of dust) wash into the corner of your eye next to your nose. Sometimes tears flow over your lower eyelid (when you cry, or you have hay fever), but mostly the tears flow down a tiny tube at the edge of your lower eyelid, next to your nose. (If you look very carefully you can see a tiny dot that is the beginning of that tube). This tube carries the tears to the back of your nose (and this is why your nose 'runs' when you cry!)

Conjunctiva (con-junk-ty-va)
This is the lining on the inside of your eyelid and the outside of the sclera at the front of your eye (except for the special skin of the cornea). You can see some tiny blood vessels on the conjunctiva over your eye. If your eyes get sore, these blood vessels get bigger and your eye looks red.

There are two lots of fluid inside the eye.

Aqueous humour (ak-we-us)
Aqueous means water, and humour means fluid.  This watery fluid fills the front of the eyeball between the cornea and the lens.

Vitreous humour (vit-re-us)
This is a thicker jelly-like liquid which fills the larger part of the eyeball behind the lens and keeps it in shape. (Vitreous means glassy, because the vitreous humour is very clear, so that light can pass through it).

Ciliary muscles (sil-e-re)
These are a circle of tiny muscles around the lens. They change the shape of the lens by squeezing and relaxing. They squeeze (making the lens fat) to look at nearby objects, and relax (making the lens thinner) for far away objects.

Your eyes are very beautiful and also very clever, because all the different parts work together to help you see!

Inside a cow's eye

If you ever get a chance to cut up a cow's eye in your science or health class, do it! It is very interesting because it's very like the human eye, and is also very beautiful because there are lots of beautiful colours inside.  This is what you will see:

The retina The retina lines the inside of the back and sides of the eye. You can see the blind spot on the back lining of the eye (there is a little hollow and no blood vessels go over the blind spot).
The lens This looks like a thick disc. It is made of lots of thin layers of see-through cells (a bit like all the layers in an onion).
You can hold it in a pair of tweezers and look through it.
If you change the shape by squeezing it, you can see how the image changes as you look through.
The iris This is the coloured part of the eye. It has muscles that change the size of the pupil to change the amount of light coming into the eye.
The muscles You can see these all round the outside of the eyeball, ready to move it in the direction the cow wanted to look.

It really is interesting! (Well, you may think it is just a bit yucky too!)


Dr Kate says:

Dr Kate
Eyes are really amazing. We need to look after them very carefully, because they are so important.

Our topics on protecting your eyes and wearing glasses will help you.

Shading your eyes under a wide-brimmed hat and wearing sunglasses will protect your eyes from the sun, especially in summer.

Staring at a computer screen for a long time makes your eyes dry and sore. Look away and blink often so that you can relax your eye and moisturise it. Focus on different things around you to give your cillary muscles a 'work out'.

Our topic Computers and your health has more info about ways to stay comfortable when using the computer.

Eye can see butterflies,
Eye can see clouds
Eye can see TV
Eye can see crowds.

Eye can see truth
Eye can see lies
Eye can see feelings
In other people's eyes.


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We've provided this information to help you to understand important things about staying healthy and happy. However, if you feel sick or unhappy, it is important to tell your mum or dad, a teacher or another grown-up.


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