The cornea is the transparent, dome-shaped window covering the front of the eye. It is a powerful refracting surface, providing 2/3 of the eye's focusing power. Like the crystal on a watch, it gives us a clear window to look through.
Because there are no blood vessels in the cornea, it is normally clear and has a shiny surface. The cornea is extremely sensitive - there are more nerve endings in the cornea than anywhere else in the body.
The adult cornea is only about 1/2 millimeter thick and is comprised of 5 layers: epithelium, Bowman's membrane, stroma, Descemet's membrane and the endothelium.
The layers of the cornea
The epithelium is layer of cells that cover the surface of the cornea. It is only about 5-6 cell layers thick and quickly regenerates when the cornea is injured. If the injury penetrates more deeply into the cornea, it may leave a scar. Scars leave opaque areas, causing the corneal to lose its clarity and luster.
Boman's membrane lies just beneath the epithelium. Because this layer is very tough and difficult to penetrate, it protects the cornea from injury.
The stroma is the thickest layer and lies just beneath Bowman's. It is composed of tiny collagen fibrils that run parallel to each other. This special formation of the collagen fibrils gives the cornea its clarity.
Descemet's membrane lies between the stroma and the endothelium. The endothelium is just underneath Descemet's and is only one cell layer thick. This layer pumps water from the cornea, keeping it clear. If damaged or disease, these cells will not regenerate.
Tiny vessels at the outermost edge of the cornea provide nourishment, along with the aqueous and tear film.
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