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Internal Eye Fluids

The eyes are mostly filled with fluids, but not the tears we are familiar with. Tears are an external fluid that bathes the cornea and sclera (white part) to keep them moist and remove dust or foreign bodies. Internal fluids are not visible when you look at a person’s eyes.

Three Chambers Containing Internal Fluids

Starting at the front of the eye and working back towards the retina, we have:

  1. The anterior chamber – behind the cornea and in front of the iris is a small area filled with fluid called aqueous humor, or just "aqueous".
  2. The posterior chamber – a very small area behind the iris and in front of the lens. The flat iris is like a partial wall between the anterior and posterior chambers, and the two chambers connect outside the iris edge and through the pupil.
  3. The vitreous chamber – a large area behind the lens and in front of the retina, taking up about two thirds of the eye’s volume. It is filled with vitreous humor, a firm, transparent gel that allows incoming light to travel to the retina.

Aqueous Humor

Aqueous fluid moves through the posterior chamber and into the anterior chamber, moistening the lens and back of the cornea. It is 99 percent water, but slightly thick and totally clear so that light can pass through it towards the retina.

Besides allowing light through, the aqueous has other functions:

  • It helps create the eye’s internal pressure. It exerts outward pressure to maintain the cornea’s curved shape.
  • It nourishes tissue. Since neither the lens nor the cornea has any blood supply, the aqueous supplies nutrients for them: mineral salts, sugars and proteins. The lens does not need much oxygen and the cornea receives oxygen on its front side. The aqueous also carries away waste products from the lens and cornea.

All aqueous functions are not fully understood. It may have a role in the eye’s immunity, defending it against pathogens; and it may act as an anti-oxidant, reducing the number of free radicals in the eye.

Aqueous Humor Drainage

Aqueous is produced by the ciliary body, a circular structure around the lens. The ciliary body secretes it into the posterior chamber and from there it flows forward:

  1. To the front of the lens and back of the iris
  2. Through the pupil into the anterior chamber
  3. Into some spongy tissue called the trabecular meshwork behind the cornea
  4. Into a channel where the cornea connects to the sclera (white part) called Schlemm’s canal
  5. Into the bloodstream

In this way, structures in the front third of the eye are moistened, supported, nourished, and drained of waste products. When the drainage system is blocked, fluid cannot drain out at a speed to match its production and pressure builds up inside the eye. This is called Glaucoma. The increased intraocular pressure eventually damages the optic nerve and if no treatment is done, blindness occurs.

Vitreous Humor

The vitreous gel is firmer than the aqueous and although the aqueous touches against it, the two do not mix. The vitreous is produced by some of the retinal cells (not light-sensitive cells) and is 98 percent water. One percent is salts, sugars and collagen fibers, and the remaining one percent is hyaluronic acid, a substance that strongly bonds with water. There are no blood vessels.

The vitreous pushes against the retina and helps hold it in place, but is only connected to the retina in three places:

  • Around the retinal periphery
  • At the macula (small central area that provides our sharpest vision)
  • At the optic disc (where the optic nerve leaves the retina)

In older eyes, the vitreous can shrink slightly and pull away from the retina. Where it is connected to the retina, it can pull the top retinal layer with it. This is called retinal detachment and needs immediate medical attention if the person’s vision is to be preserved.

Vitreous is not continually replenished like aqueous humor, but is static. That means that if anything gets into it, it will remain there unless surgically removed. An object floating in the vitreous will cast a shadow on the retina that you will be able to see. This is called a floater. Floaters are the shadows of tiny clumps of collagen.

Please visit our eye surgeon directory today if you would like to speak with a qualified ophthalmologist in your area.

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