The cornea is the transparent part of the eye that covers the front portion of the eye. It covers the pupil (the opening at the center of the eye), iris (the colored part of the eye), and anterior chamber (the fluid-filled inside of the eye). The cornea's main function is to refract, or bend, light. The cornea is responsible for focusing most of the light that enters the eye. The cornea is composed of proteins and cells. It does not contain blood vessels, unlike most of the tissues in the human body. Blood vessels may cloud the cornea, which may prevent it from refracting light properly and may adversely affect vision. The cornea is the clear, protective outer layer of the eye. Along with the sclera (white of the eye), the cornea serves as a barrier against dirt, germs, and other particles that can harm the eye's delicate components. The cornea is also capable of filtering out some amounts of the sun's ultraviolet light.
Since there are no nutrient-supplying blood vessels in the cornea, tears and the aqueous humor (a watery fluid) in the anterior chamber provide the cornea with nutrients. The cornea is comprised of five layers: the epithelium, Bowman's layer, the stroma, Descemet's membrane, and the endothelium. The first layer, the epithelium, is a layer of cells covering the cornea. It absorbs nutrients and oxygen from tears and conveys it to the rest of the cornea. It contains free nerve endings. It also prevents foreign matter from entering the eye.
The cornea is the clear, protective outer layer of the eye. Along with the sclera (white of the eye), the cornea serves as a barrier against dirt, germs, and other particles that can harm the eye's delicate components. The cornea is also capable of filtering out some amounts of the sun's ultraviolet light.
The cornea also plays a key role in vision. As light enters the eye, it is refracted, or bent, by the outside shape of the cornea. The curvature of this outer layer helps determine how well your eye can focus on objects close up and far away. If the cornea becomes damaged through disease, infection, or injury, the resulting scars or discoloration can interfere with vision by blocking or distorting light as it enters the eye.
There are three main layers of the cornea:
- ¬ Epithelium: The most superficial layer of the cornea, the epithelium stops outside matter from entering the eye. This layer also absorbs oxygen and nutrients from tears.
- ¬ Stroma: The stroma is the thickest layer of the cornea and is found behind the epithelium. It is made up mostly of water and proteins that give it an elastic but solid form.
- ¬ Endothelium: The endothelium is a single layer of cells located between the stroma and the aqueous humor, the clear fluid found in the front and rear chambers of the eye. The endothelium works as a pump, expelling excess water as it is absorbed into the stroma. Without this specialized function, the stroma could become waterlogged and hazy and opaque in appearance, also reducing vision.
The cornea is one of the most sensitive tissues of the body, as it is densely innervated with sensory nerve fibres via the ophthalmic division of the trigeminal nerve by way of 70–80 long ciliary nerves and short ciliary nerves. Research suggests the density of pain receptors in the cornea is 300-600 times greater than skin and 20-40 times greater than dental pulp, making any injury to the structure excruciatingly painful.
The optical component is concerned with producing a reduced inverted image on the retina. The eye's optical system consists of not only two but four surfaces—two on the cornea, two on the lens. Rays are refracted toward the midline. Distant rays, due to their parallel nature, converge to a point on the retina. The cornea admits light at the greatest angle. The cornea is considered to be a positive meniscus lens.
Keeping the cornea transparent:
Upon death or removal of an eye the cornea absorbs the aqueous humor, thickens, and becomes hazy. When energy is deficient the pump may fail, or works too slowly to compensate, causing swelling. This could arise at death, but a dead eye can be placed in a warm chamber and the reservoirs of sugar and glycogen can keep the cornea transparent for at least 24 hours. The endothelium controls this pumping action, and as discussed above, damage thereof is more serious, and is a cause of opaqueness and swelling. When damage to the cornea occurs, such as in a viral infection, the collagen used to repair the process is not regularly arranged, leading to an opaque patch (leukoma). When a cornea is needed for transplant, as from an eye bank, the best procedure is to remove the cornea from the eyeball, preventing the cornea from absorbing the aqueous humor.