Your eyes are composed of various important parts that have complex functions. In many ways, your eyes work like a camera in that they let light filter through to your brain and process images, allowing you to see the world.

The retina, pupil, iris, and cornea are well-known. The eye also consists of two water and gel-like substances called the aqueous humor  (Learn More) and vitreous humor. (Learn More)

Damage to either of these can occur because of age, injury, and other conditions. Problems with the aqueous and vitreous humor may require surgery.

eye anatomyEye Anatomy

In simple terms, the eye is made up of three parts.

  • Vitreous chamber: This is the largest part, filled with a gel-like transparent fluid.
  • Anterior chamber: This is between your iris and cornea.
  • Posterior chamber: This is the part of the eye between the lens and iris.

Aqueous Humor

The aqueous humor is what fills up the eye’s anterior and posterior chamber. It is also responsible for your eye’s shape.

Formation of the aqueous humor is correlated with and sensitive to your body’s circadian rhythm. It is a water-like fluid between the cornea and iris.

The aqueous humor’s main job is to:

  • Allow the cornea to expand, so it can protect the eye against dust, particles, and bacteria that can cause harm.
  • Preserve ocular pressure.
  • Transport nutrients, including vitamin C.

The aqueous humor is produced by a part of the eye called the ciliary body, located above the eye’s lens. The aqueous humor must enter and be drained from the eye at an equal rate, using a system called the trabecular meshwork. This tissue lets fluid drain and replenish at an angle.

Consistent secretion of the aqueous humor is important to your eye’s health and ensures it is the right size. It also allows you to see better.

Maintaining the Health of the Aqueous Humor

Team of happy female soccer players celebrating their achievement on a playing field at sunset.

Problems with proper flow of the aqueous humor may lead to intraocular pressure that can cause vision loss and harm to the optic nerve. This can eventually lead to glaucoma. Luckily, routine eye exams can check for irregularities in intraocular pressure.

Potential lifestyle changes that can decrease intraocular pressure include:

  • Exercise. This can relieve pressure in the eyes naturally.
  • Safety glasses if you work in certain environments or enjoy hobbies like carpentry.
  • Limiting caffeine intake. Caffeinated drinks may increase pressure in your eye.
  • Medication and relaxation techniques. These can reduce stress that may trigger glaucoma.
  • Yearly eye exams.

Even if you take excellent care of your eye health, increased intraocular pressure is linked with age, conditions like diabetes, a family history of glaucoma, and certain ethnicities.

Vitreous Humor

This is a type of liquid that is also clear. It mostly consists of sugar, salt, collagen, hyaluronic acid, and water.

The main difference between the vitreous humor and the aqueous humor is that there is a set amount of the vitreous humor in your eye, and it does not move.

In children, the vitreous humor is milky and has a gel-like consistency. The gel-like liquid becomes clearer as you grow older, so light can get through and allow your eye to see.

Maintaining the Health of the Vitreous Humor

People over the age of 50 may become affected by vitreous detachment as the vitreous humor dwindles. This causes the vitreous humor to change in consistency and become fibrous. Symptoms are:

  • Increased floaters. These are small strands that look like cobwebs or small spots that look like shadows, but they go away once you try to focus on them.
  • Light flashes. You may notice small light flashes in your side (peripheral) vision.

These floaters do not generally result in vision loss, but they can lead to a problems, such as:

  • Retinal detachment. This happens when your retina becomes pulled or lifted from its regular position. It can lead to vision loss if not treated. When there are tears or smaller injuries, this is referred to as a retinal tear. Laser surgery can treat a tear, while traditional surgery may be needed for a retinal detachment.
  • Macular hole. The macula is in the central part of the retina. It is the part of the eye that lets you see things in detail. If a part of your macula breaks, it could result in a hole that causes vision problems. Some macular holes heal on their own, while surgery is needed to repair others. Surgery involves removing the vitreous liquid and supplanting it with a mixture of gas and liquid. You will have to be face down for one to two days or even a few weeks after this surgery. You will usually not be allowed to fly for about six months to prevent changes in air pressure from causing the bubble to increase in size, which could result in additional eye pressure.

macular hole diagram

Frequently Asked Questions

What does the aqueous humor do?

A clear fluid at the frontal part of the eye, the aqueous humor provides nutrients to parts of the eye that do not have blood supply. The clear aqueous humor also drains out at an equal rate to remove waste. It makes sure your eye is the right shape and maintains the right amount of pressure in the eye at all times. 

Why is the vitreous humor important?

This clear fluid is located between the front part of the eye and the retina. Unlike the aqueous humor, there is a set amount of liquid that is clear enough to let your eye see. It does not become replenished if some is lost.

Anything that gets stuck in the vitreous humor must be removed using surgical procedures.

What are some ways the aqueous humor and vitreous humor can be damaged?

The aqueous humor is constantly drained and replenished, but problems with the system that allows the aqueous humor to flow properly can increase intraocular pressure. Increased pressure in the eye can damage your optic nerve and lead to vision loss.

Glaucoma is often associated with imbalances in the aqueous humor. It means that your eye is either producing excess liquid or that your aqueous humor is not properly able to drain itself through the trabecular network.

The vitreous humor often becomes stringy as you get older. This may cause small parts to detach and float around your eye. Those who are age 50 or older may also suffer from retinal detachment or macular holes. These must be corrected using surgery.

References

Vitreous and Aqueous Humor. (February 2015). Healthline.

Aqueous Humor. (January 2019). American Academy of Ophthalmology.

Vitreous Humor. (February 2015). Healthline.

Facts About Vitreous Detachment. (August 2009). National Eye Institute.

Aqueous Humor Formation. (2019). American Academy of Ophthalmology.

Aqueous Humor Dynamics: A Review. (September 2010). The Open Ophthalmology Journal.   

How Do We See? (July 2015). Arizona State University School of Life Sciences.

Aqueous Humor Flow and Function. (July 2015). Bright Focus Foundation.

Glaucoma. (November 2018). Mayo Clinic.

Understanding Eye Anatomy – Function of the Vitreous Humor. (October 2017). Eye Pain Management.

The Aqueous Humor. (August 2017). Vision Eye Institute.

Facts About Retinal Detachment. (October 2009). National Eye Institute.

Facts About Macular Hole. (April 2012). National Eye Institute.