Conjunctiva

Overview

What is the conjunctiva?

The conjunctiva is a thin, clear membrane that protects your eye. It covers the inside of your eyelid and the white of your eye (the sclera).

The conjunctiva creates the mucus layer that forms part of your tears.

Function

What does the conjunctiva do?

The conjunctiva protects and lubricates your eye. It’s a barrier between your eye’s vulnerable tissues and anything that could irritate them. The conjunctiva covers the white part of your eye. Your cornea covers the iris (the colored part of your eye) and pupil (the black center of your eye).

The conjunctiva works with your lacrimal glands and meibomian glands to make your tears. Your lacrimal glands make the watery part of tears. That watery liquid combines with mucus made by your conjunctiva and oil from your meibomian glands to create tears.

How does the conjunctiva help the eye function?

Think about the conjunctiva like a thin, clear sheet that covers the whites of your eyes. It acts like a combination of a raincoat and plastic wrap. It blocks irritants (like allergens) from getting into your eye and keeps moisture and lubrication sealed in.

You might develop dry eyes or an eye infection if something’s wrong with your conjunctiva.

Anatomy

Where is the conjunctiva located?

The conjunctiva lines the inside of your eyelids and covers the white parts of your eyes.

What is the conjunctiva’s structure?

The conjunctiva is made of three parts:

  • Palpebra conjunctiva: The lining of your eyelids.
  • Bulbar conjunctiva: The covering over your eyeball that protects the white of your eye.
  • Conjunctiva fornix: A piece that joins the palpebra and bulbar conjunctiva together where they meet.

Conditions and Disorders

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

The most common conditions that affect the conjunctiva are pink eye (conjunctivitis) and subconjunctival hemorrhages.

Pink eye is a common eye infection. It’s caused by allergens, irritants, bacteria and viruses. Which treatment you’ll need depends on what’s causing the irritation in your conjunctiva.

A subconjunctival hemorrhage is the medical term for a broken blood vessel on the surface of your eye. The red spots caused by subconjunctival hemorrhage can look scary, but most cases don’t cause any symptoms or need treatment.

What are signs or symptoms of problems with my conjunctiva?

Visit an eye care specialist if you notice any symptoms in your eyes, including:

Care

How do I take care of my conjunctiva?

Tell an eye care specialist about any changes in your vision. If you wear glasses or contact lenses, have your eyes examined regularly. Your eye care specialist will adjust your prescription as often as necessary.

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?

Visit an eye care specialist 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’re experiencing severe eye pain or suddenly lose your vision.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

The conjunctiva is a barrier between your eyes and the outside world. It keeps your eyes safe and lubricated.

It’s usually easy to tell if something is irritating your conjunctiva because the whites of your eyes will be red, itchy or feel dry. Visit an eye care specialist as soon as you notice any symptoms in your eyes. Even a small irritation can get worse over time if it’s not diagnosed.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 10/22/2022.

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 10/22/2022.
  • Shumway CL, Motlagh M, Wade M. Anatomy, Head and Neck, Eye Conjunctiva. (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30137787/) 2022 Aug 30. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island, FL: StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Accessed 10/22/2022.
  • U.S. National Library of Medicine. Conjunctiva. (https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/002326.htm) Accessed 10/22/2022.

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy