Pupillary Diameter

The major function of the iris is to increase the amount of light that enters the eye during darkness and to decrease the amount of light that enters the eye in daylight. The reflexes for controlling this mechanism are considered in the discussion of the neurology of the eye in Chapter 51.

The amount of light that enters the eye through the pupil is proportional to the area of the pupil or to the square of the diameter of the pupil. The pupil of the human eye can become as small as about 1.5 millimeters and as large as 8 millimeters in diameter. The quantity of light entering the eye can change about 30fold as a result of changes in pupillary aperture.

"Depth of Focus" of the Lens System Increases with Decreasing Pupillary Diameter. Figure 49-11 shows two eyes that are exactly alike except for the diameters of the pupillary apertures. In the upper eye, the pupillary aperture is small, and in the lower eye, the aperture is large. In front of each of these two eyes are two small point sources of light; light from each passes through the pupillary aperture and focuses on the retina. Consequently, in both eyes, the retina sees two spots of light in perfect focus. It is evident from the diagrams, however, that if the retina is moved forward or backward to an out-of-focus position, the size of each spot will not change much in the upper eye, but in the lower eye the size of each spot will increase greatly, becoming a "blur circle." In other words, the upper lens system has far greater depth of focus than the bottom lens system. When a lens system has great depth of focus, the retina can be displaced considerably from the focal plane or the lens strength can change considerably from normal and the image will still remain

Figure 49-11

Effect of small (top) and large (bottom) pupillary apertures on "depth of focus."

Figure 49-11

Effect of small (top) and large (bottom) pupillary apertures on "depth of focus."

nearly in sharp focus, whereas when a lens system has a "shallow" depth of focus, moving the retina only slightly away from the focal plane causes extreme blurring.

The greatest possible depth of focus occurs when the pupil is extremely small. The reason for this is that, with a very small aperture, almost all the rays pass through the center of the lens, and the central most rays are always in focus, as explained earlier.

Errors of Refraction

Emmetropia (Normal Vision). As shown in Figure 49-12, the eye is considered to be normal, or "emmetropic," if parallel light rays from distant objects are in sharp focus on the retina when the ciliary muscle is completely relaxed. This means that the emmetropic eye can see all distant objects clearly with its ciliary muscle relaxed. However, to focus objects at close range, the eye must contract its ciliary muscle and thereby provide appropriate degrees of accommodation.

Hyperopia (Farsightedness). Hyperopia, which is also known as "farsightedness," is usually due to either an eyeball that is too short or, occasionally, a lens system that is too weak. In this condition, as seen in the middle panel of Figure 49-12, parallel light rays are not bent sufficiently by the relaxed lens system to come to focus by the time they reach the retina. To overcome this abnormality, the ciliary muscle must contract to increase the strength of the lens. By using the mechanism of accommodation, a farsighted person is capable of focusing distant objects on the retina. If the person has used only a small amount of strength in the ciliary muscle to accommodate for the distant objects, he or she still has

much accommodative power left, and objects closer and closer to the eye can also be focused sharply until the ciliary muscle has contracted to its limit. In old age, when the lens becomes "presbyopic," a farsighted person is often unable to accommodate the lens sufficiently to focus even distant objects, much less near objects.

Myopia (Nearsightedness). In myopia, or "nearsighted-ness," when the ciliary muscle is completely relaxed, the light rays coming from distant objects are focused in front of the retina, as shown in the bottom panel of Figure 49-12. This is usually due to too long an eyeball, but it can result from too much refractive power in the lens system of the eye.

No mechanism exists by which the eye can decrease the strength of its lens to less than that which exists when the ciliary muscle is completely relaxed. A myopic person has no mechanism by which to focus distant objects sharply on the retina. However, as an object moves nearer to the person's eye, it finally gets close enough that its image can be focused. Then, when the object comes still closer to the eye, the person can use the mechanism of accommodation to keep the image focused clearly. A myopic person has a definite limiting "far point" for clear vision.

Correction of Myopia and Hyperopia by Use of Lenses.

It will be recalled that light rays passing through a concave lens diverge. If the refractive surfaces of the eye have too much refractive power, as in myopia, this excessive refractive power can be neutralized by placing in front of the eye a concave spherical lens, which will diverge rays. Such correction is demonstrated in the upper diagram of Figure 49-13.

Conversely, in a person who has hyperopia—that is, someone who has too weak a lens system—the abnormal vision can be corrected by adding refractive power using a convex lens in front of the eye. This correction is demonstrated in the lower diagram of Figure 49-13.

One usually determines the strength of the concave or convex lens needed for clear vision by "trial and error"—that is, by trying first a strong lens and then a

Parallel light rays focus on the retina in emmetropia, behind the retina in hyperopia, and in front of the retina in myopia.

Correction of myopia with a concave lens, and correction of hyperopia with a convex lens.

stronger or weaker lens until the one that gives the best visual acuity is found.


Astigmatism is a refractive error of the eye that causes the visual image in one plane to focus at a different distance from that of the plane at right angles. This most often results from too great a curvature of the cornea in one plane of the eye. An example of an astigmatic lens would be a lens surface like that of an egg lying sidewise to the incoming light. The degree of curvature in the plane through the long axis of the egg is not nearly as great as the degree of curvature in the plane through the short axis.

Because the curvature of the astigmatic lens along one plane is less than the curvature along the other plane, light rays striking the peripheral portions of the lens in one plane are not bent nearly as much as the rays striking the peripheral portions of the other plane. This is demonstrated in Figure 49-14, which shows rays of light originating from a point source and passing through an oblong, astigmatic lens. The light rays in the vertical plane, indicated by plane BD, are refracted greatly by the astigmatic lens because of the greater curvature in the vertical direction than in the horizontal direction. By contrast, the light rays in the horizontal plane, indicated by plane AC, are not bent nearly as much as the light rays in vertical plane BD. It is obvious that light rays passing through an astigmatic lens do not all come to a common focal point, because the light rays passing through one plane focus far in front of those passing through the other plane.

The accommodative power of the eye can never compensate for astigmatism because, during accommodation, the curvature of the eye lens changes approximately equally in both planes; therefore, in astigmatism, each of the two planes requires a different degree of accommodation. Thus, without the aid of glasses, a person with astigmatism never sees in sharp focus.

Correction of Astigmatism with a Cylindrical Lens. One may consider an astigmatic eye as having a lens system made up of two cylindrical lenses of different strengths and placed at right angles to each other. To correct for

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Essentials of Human Physiology

Essentials of Human Physiology

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