Your eyes are a key sensory organ, feeding information to your brain about the outside world. Your eyes do the “physical” part of seeing. The signals they send allow your brain to “build” the picture that you see. Eye-related symptoms are also key clues to issues affecting your whole body, so experts recommend making eye health a priority.


The labeled anatomy of an eye.
Your eye is made up of many structures that work together so you can see.

What are eyes?

Your eyes are the sensory organs that allow you to see. Your eyes capture visible light from the world around you and turn it into a form your brain uses to create your sense of vision. Your brain doesn’t have sensory abilities of its own. It needs your eyes (and other senses, like hearing and touch) to gather information about the world around you.

Most people are born with two eyes. Working together, they give you a field of view about 200 degrees wide and 135 degrees tall. When your eyes work together correctly, they give you depth perception and 3D vision. They also give you color vision.

It’s also important to remember that sight and vision aren’t necessarily the same thing, even though many people — including eye care specialists and healthcare professionals — use those terms interchangeably. Sight is what your eyes do. Vision is the entire process that starts with sight and ends with your brain processing what your eyes see into a form your brain can use and understand.


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How do your eyes work?

Everything your eyes do starts with light from the outside world. Your eye structure lets light enter and pass through a series of clear components and sections, including the cornea, aqueous humor, lens and vitreous humor. Those structures bend and focus light, adjusting how far the light beams travel before they come into focus.

The focus needs to be precise. If it isn’t, what you’re looking at appears blurry. Your eye has muscles that can make subtle changes to the shape of your eye, moving the focus point so it lands correctly on the retina.

When light lands on the cells of your retinas, those cells send signals to your brain. The signals are like coded messages describing everything they can about the light. That includes the color, how intense it is and any other relevant details. Your brain decodes and processes the signals and uses them to “build” the image you see.


How do eyes work?

Human eyes are complex, and it takes many parts working together correctly for you to see.

Eye anatomy

The parts of your eye include the:

  • Cornea. This protects the inside of your eye like a windshield. Your tear fluid lubricates your corneas. The corneas also do part of the work bending light as it enters your eyes.
  • Sclera. This is the white part of your eye that forms the general shape and structure of your eyeball.
  • Conjunctiva. This clear, thin layer covers the sclera and lines the inside of your eyelids.
  • Aqueous humor. This is fluid that fills a space called the anterior chamber. The pressure of the aqueous humor helps maintain your eye’s shape.
  • Iris. This part contains the muscles that control the size of your pupil. It’s also responsible for eye color. The iris can be brown, blue, green or hazel (a blend of brown, yellow and green).
  • Pupil. This is the black circle inside the iris. It’s like an adjustable window to the inside of your eye. It widens and narrows to control how much light enters your eye.
  • Lens. This focuses light that enters your eye and directs it to the back of your eye.
  • Vitreous humor. This clear, gel-like fluid fills the space between the lens and retina. It helps your eye hold its shape. It’s also sometimes known simply as “the vitreous.”
  • Retina. This thin layer of light-sensitive cells at the back of your eyes converts light into electrical signals. It contains rods (which help you see in low light) and cones (which help you see colors).
  • Macula. This small area of your retina is key to your vision. It’s responsible for the center of your visual field. It also helps you see color and fine details.
  • Optic nerve. This connects your retinas to your brain. It’s like the data cable that carries signals from your eyes, with connection points linking to multiple brain areas.
  • External muscles. These control your eye’s position, alignment and movement. They also contribute to your eye’s shape, which is part of your ability to switch your vision’s focus between near and far objects.

Conditions and Disorders

What are the common conditions and disorders that affect your eyes?

The types of conditions that can affect your eyes vary depending on the specific part(s) involved. That’s because your eyes include a variety of tissue types. It has muscle, connective tissue, nerves, blood vessels and more.

Some of the different types of eye conditions include — but aren’t limited to — the following:

  • Refractive errors. These are problems with how you see because light isn’t coming into focus on your retinas correctly. Refractive errors can take many forms, such as focusing too soon (nearsightedness) or too late (farsightedness). They can also involve distortions in your sight, like with astigmatism.
  • Corneal disorders. These are conditions that affect the cornea itself. They can happen for many reasons, ranging from congenital conditions (which you have at birth) to conditions that don’t develop until later in life.
  • Retinal disorders. These conditions can happen because of problems that affect the retina directly. They can also be secondary effects of another disease, like how lattice degeneration can lead to a retinal detachment.
  • Optic nerve-related conditions. These affect the nerve that links the eyes and brain. Examples include optic neuritis and optic atrophy.
  • Age-related eye disorders. These conditions are more likely to happen as you get older, especially after age 65. They range from minor concerns like age-related loss of near vision (presbyopia) to serious concerns like cataracts. Some age-related eye diseases, like macular degeneration or glaucoma, are severe enough to cause permanent vision loss.

Your eyes are also susceptible to more general conditions and issues. Examples of these include:

What are some common signs or symptoms of eye conditions?

Signs and symptoms of an eye condition can vary greatly. One reason for that is the many different parts that affect or contribute to your vision. A common example of this is how a metabolic and circulatory condition like Type 2 diabetes can lead to vision loss over time.

Some symptoms affect the surface of your eye only. Others affect the inside of your eye. Some key types of eye symptoms include:

  • Eye surface issues.
  • Eye appearance/alignment.
  • Eye function and sight.

Eye surface issues

These symptoms affect your eyes’ surface or the area immediately surrounding them. They include:

Eye appearance/alignment

Eye function and sight

Symptoms from eye-related conditions can also affect your sight itself. The eyes are often a sense you rely on heavily, so sight- or vision-related symptoms are often easier to notice.

Some of them involve changes or disruptions in how or what you see. Examples include — but aren’t limited to — the following:

How the link between your eyes and brain influences symptoms

It’s also important to remember that many causes of eye symptoms — especially sight/vision changes or eye movement control symptoms — may not be due to an eye condition. Some might happen due to a condition elsewhere in your body. An example of this is yellowing of the sclera when you have jaundice.

The familiar saying is that “the eyes are a window to the soul.” But from the medical perspective, they’re also like a window to your brain. Eye-related symptoms are a key way for healthcare providers to find brain conditions and issues. That’s why vision changes can be telltale indicators of brain-related issues like concussions or strokes.

What are some common tests to check eye health?

Many tests can detect conditions that affect your eyes directly or that cause eye symptoms. The most important of them is an eye exam. Regular eye exams can detect many eye conditions or concerns before you ever have symptoms. And eye exams can help prevent long-term vision damage or issues when you have other conditions like Type 2 diabetes.

Other common tests include:

There are many tests your eye care specialist or other healthcare provider may recommend depending on your symptoms and the suspected cause(s). They may also recommend tests for other body systems that might influence or cause eye symptoms. Your specialist or provider is the best source of information about test options, what they recommend and why.


What are some common treatments for eye conditions?

There are many possible treatments for eye conditions, and the treatments can vary widely. Some conditions or concerns that are common or not severe may have simpler treatments. Other conditions or concerns need more advanced care options.

Some examples of types of eye care include:

  • Vision correction. This is the main approach to treating eyesight issues like nearsightedness, farsightedness or age-related near vision loss. Eyeglasses and contact lenses are the most common options. Some people need prescription glasses or contacts, while others may only need reading glasses (sometimes known as “cheaters”). Others may choose to undergo vision correction surgery.
  • Medications. Medications can treat many conditions that — either directly or indirectly — affect your eyes. The type of medication depends on the specific condition(s) involved and other factors. These include medicated drops or ointments you apply to your eyes or medications you take other ways (by mouth, via injection or infusion, etc.).
  • Surgery. Many eye conditions are treatable with surgery. These can include a variety of methods, including phacoemulsification (which uses ultrasound to break up cataracts), cryotherapy (which uses intense cold), radiofrequency ablation (which uses intense heat) and laser surgery.

Many other possible treatments can play a role in treating eye conditions or symptoms. Because there are many influencing factors, your eye care specialist or healthcare provider is the best person to tell you more about treatment options. They can explain the options and help you choose one that’s most likely to help you.


How can I care for and keep my eyes healthy?

There are several things you can do to maintain your eye health. You can:

  • Get regular eye exams. Everyone should get an eye exam every one to two years, regardless of whether or not they need glasses or contacts. And if you have a higher risk of eye disease, you may need more frequent eye exams. Your eye specialist can advise you on how often you should get an exam.
  • Wear eye protection. Safety glasses or goggles can make all the difference in avoiding eye injuries or damage. While putting them on might seem like a hassle or unnecessary step, they can spare you a lot of pain and avoid irreversible damage.
  • Quit using tobacco, or never start. Nicotine-containing products, including vaping or smokeless (chewing) tobacco, can contribute to circulatory problems over time. This is especially true of the smaller, more delicate blood vessels in your eyes. Ask your provider for resources to help you quit.
  • Make nutrition a priority. Getting enough essential vitamins, minerals and other nutrients is a big help to your eye health.
  • Reach and maintain a weight that’s healthy for you. Your weight and overall health can influence your eye health.
  • Don’t ignore eye-related symptoms. Changes in your vision or symptoms that otherwise affect your eyes are often the earliest signs of a greater issue. Talk to an eye care specialist or healthcare provider about your concerns. It’s better to ask and not have an issue than not ask and have an existing issue worsen.

Additional Common Questions

When should I get medical attention for conditions or issues related to my eyes?

Several eye-related changes or symptoms mean you (or someone you care for) need to get medical attention. Some examples of these include:

  • Sudden vision loss (either partial or total) that affects one or both eyes.
  • An injury where you have something stuck in your eye, or you feel like something is stuck on the surface of your eye, even though you can’t see anything there.
  • Burns around or on your eyes (even minor burns).
  • Any injury that makes your eye red, swollen, bruised or bleed.
  • Any condition or injury that causes the eye socket area around your eyeball to swell.
  • If your eyes bulge or stick out noticeably farther than usual.
  • If your vision becomes noticeably cloudy, hazy or foggy (especially if this happens suddenly).
  • If you have eye symptoms along with vomiting, chills, fever or other infection symptoms.
  • Bright flashes of light in your vision, a sudden increase in floaters, or a loss of vision that looks like a dark curtain or wall covering part of your vision.
  • Kaleidoscope vision.
  • If you have trouble moving your eyes a certain way or direction they can usually move.
  • Sudden tunnel vision.
  • Distortions or loss of central vision (with or without changes to your peripheral vision).

There are many more reasons other than those listed above. When in doubt, the safest choice is to get medical attention quickly. Doing so could help protect your eyesight and vision or could even help save your life.

What are the most common eye problems?

The most common eye problems (other than temporary conditions like eye infections or irritation) include:

  • Refractive errors.
  • Age-related cataracts.
  • Age-related macular degeneration.
  • Retinal diseases (especially diabetes-related retinopathy).
  • Glaucoma.
  • Dry eye disease.

Which organ is connected to the eyes?

Your optic nerve is a direct connection between your eyes and brain. How your eyes develop also means your retinas are technically part of your central nervous system, brain and spinal cord.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Your eyes are one of your brain’s windows to the world. They gather light from your surroundings and help your brain build the picture you see. It’s easy to take this sense for granted when it works properly and easy to miss when it doesn’t. You can do several things to help protect and maintain your eyes, many of which involve simple steps you can take every day.

If you have concerns about your vision and any related health effects, it’s a good idea to talk to an eye care specialist or healthcare provider. They can help you learn more and take steps to safeguard your vision. And when in doubt, talk to a medical professional or seek medical care. Doing so without delay could protect you from long-term vision issues.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 11/15/2023.

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