The Human Body

Protective Structures of the Eye

Several structures, not parts of the eyeball, contribute to the protection of the eye. The most important of these are the eyelids, two folds of skin and tissue, upper and lower, that can be closed by means of muscles to form a protective covering over the eyeball against excessive light and mechanical injury. The eyelashes, a fringe of short hairs growing on the edge of either eyelid, act as a screen to keep dust particles and insects out of the eyes when the eyelids are partly closed. 

Inside the eyelids is a thin protective membrane, the conjunctiva, which doubles over to cover the visible sclera. Each eye also has a tear gland, or lacrimal organ, situated at the outside corner of the eye. The salty secretion of these glands lubricates the forward part of the eyeball when the eyelids are closed and flushes away any small dust particles or other foreign matter on the surface of the eye. 

Normally the eyelids of human eyes close by reflex action about every six seconds, but if dust reaches the surface of the eye and is not washed away, the eyelids blink more often and more tears are produced. On the edges of the eyelids are a number of small glands, the Meibomian glands, which produce a fatty secretion that lubricates the eyelids themselves and the eyelashes. 

The eyebrows, located above each eye, also have a protective function in soaking up or deflecting perspiration or rain and preventing the moisture from running into the eyes. The hollow socket in the skull in which the eye is set is called the orbit. The bony edges of the orbit, the frontal bone, and the cheekbone protect the eye from mechanical injury by blows or collisions.

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