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What Is an Eye Socket?

By Natalie M. Smith
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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An eye socket, or orbital socket, is a part of the skull in which the eye is enclosed. Structures such as the lacrimal gland, the optic nerve, and muscles keep the eye and the socket functioning properly. Eyelashes and eyelids help to shield the eye from potential damage. While healthy eye sockets allow the eye to move easily and freely in several directions, there are several issues that may cause problems in this area.

Eye sockets are cavities that essentially cup the eyes. Several skull bones make up a socket, and these bones join to form a four-walled pyramid behind each eye. Although much of the socket encloses the eye, some of it protrudes beyond, and can be readily felt behind the eyebrow.

The lacrimal gland, which is where tears are produced, is also located in the eye socket, as is the optic nerve, which connects the eyes to the brain. They keep the eyes moist and send nerve impulses to the brain, respectively. As such, the sockets protect not only the eyes, but many of the structures the eyes need to function properly. Without the moisture provided by tears or the information relayed via the optic nerve, the interplay between the eye and the brain that allows humans to see would be interrupted or impossible.

Other important structures are also located within the eye sockets. Fat sits behind each socket and covers the six orbital muscles found there. Orbital muscles allow the eye to move in all directions, while fat cushions the eye and its outer components, making each movement smooth and easy. Difficulty or inability to move the eye freely might indicate an eye or socket problem, or another health condition.

Eyes have several protective features, including eyelashes and eyelids. The eye socket, however, is the only bony structure that protects the eyes from damage. The sockets are susceptible to injury, and socket fractures are usually the result of accidental blows to the eye. Other problems with the socket that might occur include infection, inflammation, and tumors. Some symptoms of these conditions include socket pain, redness, and swelling.

There are several issues that may cause harm to the eye socket. Thyroid disease can cause changes to the structures of the socket, while Graves' disease is a condition in which the immune system attacks the thyroid gland. Tissues and muscles within the socket have properties similar to that of the thyroid, so they might be attacked as well. This can cause inflammation and the buildup of fluid inside the socket, forcing the eyes to bulge outward.

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