How light reaches the eye and its components

David H. Sliney

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

108 Scopus citations


The human eye is exquisitely sensitive to light (i.e., visible radiant energy), and when dark-adapted, the retina can detect a few photons of blue-green light. It is therefore not at all surprising that ocular tissues are also more vulnerable to ultraviolet (UV) and light damage than the skin. For this reason, humans have evolved with certain anatomical, physiological, and behavioral traits that protect this critical organ from the UV damage that would otherwise be certain from the intense bath of overhead solar ultraviolet radiation (UVR) when we are outdoors during daylight. For example, the UV exposure threshold dose for photokeratitis ("welders' flash" or "snow blindness") - if measured as falling on a horizontal ground surface - would be reached in less than 10 minutes around mid-day in the summer sun. There are three critical ocular structures that could be affected by UV exposure: the cornea, the lens, and the retina. The cornea transmits radiant energy only at 295 nm and above. The crystalline lens absorbs almost all incident energy to wavelengths of nearly 400 nm. In youth, a very small amount of UV-A reaches the retina, but the lens becomes more absorbing with age. Thus there are intraocular filters that effectively filter different parts of the UV spectrum and allow only of the order of 1% or less to actually reach the retina. Nevertheless, this small fraction of energy - if phototoxic - could still be of concern. Finally, oblique rays entering the eye from the temporal side, can actually reach the equatorial (germinative) area of the lens.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)501-509
Number of pages9
JournalInternational Journal of Toxicology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 2002
Externally publishedYes


  • Lens
  • Phototoxicity
  • Retina
  • Sunlight
  • Ultraviolet

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology
  • Toxicology
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


Dive into the research topics of 'How light reaches the eye and its components'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this