Retina

Overview

What is the retina of the eye?

The retina converts light that enters into your eye into electrical signals your optic nerve sends to your brain which creates the images you see. It’s a key part of your vision.

The retina is the layer at the very back of your eyeball.

Function

What does the retina do?

The retina captures the light that enters your eye and helps translate it into the images you see.

Light passes through the lens at the front of your eye and hits the retina. Photoreceptors — cells inside your retina that react to light — change light energy into an electrical signal. This signal travels through your optic nerve and into your brain to become the picture of the world you see.

How does the retina help the eye function?

The retina is like a translator in your eye. When light hits it, your retina converts it to a signal your brain processes and understands.

Without a retina — or with a damaged retina — your eye might still function (it would still take in light) but your brain wouldn’t receive all the information it needs to create images.

Anything affecting your retina can cause your vision to get worse. That’s why you should see your healthcare provider right away if your eyes or vision suddenly change.

Anatomy

Where is the retina located?

The retina is at the back of your eye. It’s opposite the lens and pupil. The lens focuses light that enters your eye to hit your retina and its photoreceptor cells.

What is the retina made of?

The retina is made of two parts, the macula and the peripheral retina. The macula is in the center of your retina and processes most of what you’re directly looking at. The peripheral retina fills in the parts of your vision at the edges of your visual field (your peripheral vision). For example, if you’re sitting across the table from a friend, your macula helps you see their face and your peripheral retina lets you see the rest of the room on either side of them.

The retina contains many types of cells. Photoreceptors process light into an electrical signal that your brain can understand as images. Rods are photoreceptors that help you see at night and in dim light. Cones process color and make up most of your usual vision. Both types of cells work together to give a clear, accurate picture of what you’re seeing.

Conditions and Disorders

What are the common conditions and disorders that affect the retina?

The retina can be affected by many conditions that damage your eye. Conditions that specifically affect the retina include:

People with diabetes and babies born prematurely have an increased risk of retinopathy (weakened blood vessels in the retina). Both diabetes-related retinopathy and retinopathy of prematurity can cause permanent damage to your — or your baby’s — vision.

What are the signs or symptoms of problems with my retina?

Talk to your healthcare provider if you notice any symptoms in your eyes, including:

  • Blurry or distorted vision.
  • Loss of peripheral vision.
  • Double vision (diplopia).
  • Light sensitivity.
  • Your vision is getting noticeably worse.

What tests are done on the retina?

Your provider will check your retina as part of your overall eye exam. Your eyes will be dilated for this exam. They’ll use an ophthalmoscope, a special tool that lets them see into your eye and examine all its parts. Your provider might take pictures of your retina during your visit.

Care

How do I take care of my retina?

Tell your healthcare provider about any changes in your vision. If you wear glasses or contact lenses, have your eyes examined regularly so your provider can adjust your prescription as often as necessary. If you have diabetes, you need to see your eye care provider at least once a year.

Make sure you’re wearing proper eye protection for any sport or activity that could cause an eye injury.

When should I see my healthcare provider?

See your healthcare provider as soon as you notice any changes in your vision. Whether it’s something as simple as needing new glasses, or a more serious condition, don’t wait for symptoms to get worse before having your eyes checked.

Go to the emergency room if you suddenly lose your vision or have severe pain in your eyes.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

The retina is the processor that helps the images you see make it through your eye to your brain. It’s important in your ability to see, and taking care of it will make sure you have great sight throughout your life. Talk to your provider about anything that seems “off” with your eyes. The sooner you have a problem with your vision diagnosed, the more likely you are to avoid serious complications.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 04/07/2022.

References

  • American Academy of Ophthalmology. Eye anatomy: parts of the eye and how we see.. (https://www.aao.org/eye-health/anatomy/parts-of-eye) Accessed 4/8/2022.
  • MedlinePlus. Retina. (https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/002291.htm) Accessed. 4/8/2022.
  • StatPearls. Neuroanatomy, retina. (https://www.statpearls.com/ArticleLibrary/viewarticle/888) Accessed 4/8/2022.

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