What are the Adnexa?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Adnexa are structures attached to some the body's organs that play a role in their functions. These appendages may support organ function, protect the organ, or be involved in other ways. Some common examples of adnexa include the skin appendages, accessory visual structures, and adnexa uteri, the accessory organs attached to the uterus. Students of human anatomy learn to name organs and their accessory parts as they explore the function of various parts of the body.

The adnexa of the uterus includes the uterus, fallopian tubes and ovaries.
The adnexa of the uterus includes the uterus, fallopian tubes and ovaries.

The skin appendages include structures like hairs, sweat and sebaceous glands, and nails. These are not part of the skin itself but they are attached and directly adjacent to the skin. They also promote healthy skin function. The nails, for example, protect very tender areas of the skin that cannot be exposed to the environment without risk of injury. Likewise, sweat glands provide a way for the body to regulate heat as well as express toxins through the skin.

Uterine adnexi support organ functions of the female reproductive system.
Uterine adnexi support organ functions of the female reproductive system.

In the case of the adnexa uteri, the structures include the fallopian tubes attached to the uterus along with the ovaries. The uterus is also supported by a number of ligaments that hold it in place and maintain the positioning of other aspects of the pelvic anatomy. These ligaments may be considered important appendages, along with the vaginal canal, the structure that opens onto the uterus.

The adnexa of the eye includes the eyebrows, eyelids and eyelashes.
The adnexa of the eye includes the eyebrows, eyelids and eyelashes.

The accessory visual structures or adnexa of the eye include the eyelids, eyebrow, and eyelashes. All help to protect the eye, along with the glands that lubricate the eye to reduce the risk of injury and carry away small particles of material that land on the surface of the eye. Eyebrows and eyelashes filter out large materials that could be injurious to the eye, keeping the surface of the eye as clean as possible to reduce the risks of irritation and infection.

The uterus is supported by a number of ligaments, which hold it in place.
The uterus is supported by a number of ligaments, which hold it in place.

Although they are not directly part of the organs they support, the adnexa are an important part of the anatomy of the area the organ is located in. They also serve an important function directly related to the workings of the organ. With the uterus, for example, the ovaries are needed to release eggs and the fallopian tubes need to move the eggs so that they can land in the uterus, where they can be fertilized and implanted, eventually developing into a fetus. Injury to one of the adnexa can impair the function of the organ, as seen in burn victims who lose their eyelids and experience eye problems as a result.

The sweat glands are an adnexa of the skin, as they help to regulate body heat and expel toxins.
The sweat glands are an adnexa of the skin, as they help to regulate body heat and expel toxins.
Keeping the surface of the eye clean can help prevent irritation.
Keeping the surface of the eye clean can help prevent irritation.
When the adnexa of the eye do not function at optimum levels, symptoms such as itching, burning and excessive tearing my develop.
When the adnexa of the eye do not function at optimum levels, symptoms such as itching, burning and excessive tearing my develop.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments

lighth0se33

Sweat glands do a wonderful job of keeping our bodies from overheating. While working outdoors on a hot summer day, I have noticed a layer of sweat all over my skin. This moisture is cool, and it feels like I'm wrapped in a thin, wet towel.

I sometimes pity my dog, because the only sweat glands he has are on his foot pads, and they don't do a great job of cooling him off. He has to pant for that.

If he has really overheated, then I will spray him all over with a water bottle. The cool water will accomplish the same thing that human sweat glands do, because it will evaporate just like sweat does, cooling him in the process.

kylee07drg

@orangey03 – Speaking of not noticing what something is good for until it's gone, I learned the importance of skin adnexa when I lost part of my toenail last summer. We never really think about how our nails are protecting delicate areas until something happens to one of them.

I had dropped a heavy box on my toe, and a month later, I noticed that my big toenail was loose in the middle. It had a crack right across it, and when I tugged, it appeared ready to come off.

I went ahead and pulled it off. The skin underneath was bright pink and so tender. I was afraid to wear flip-flops or sandals for the rest of the summer, so I walked around with socks and sneakers on in 100 degree weather.

By fall, it had grown out enough to cover the nail bed. I sure missed it during those hot months!

orangey03

@wavy58 – Eyelids do seem to be the most important eye adnexa. The function of the eyebrows is not as obvious, but we would notice if they were gone.

I do a lot of gardening in the summer, and I have noticed how much sweat accumulates on my forehead just above my brow. If my eyebrows were gone, this sweat would fall right down into my eyes and burn them.

Because the brows catch the sweat, I have the chance to wipe it off with a cloth. Sometimes, when I sweat profusely, a drop or two will make its way past the brow, and it really stings when it gets in my eye. This makes me appreciate my eyebrows very much.

wavy58

Oh, I can't imagine losing my eyelids! The dryness would be unbearable! I don't see how anyone could live without them.

Once, I went to the eye doctor and had to hold my eyes open without blinking while he examined them. This was hard to do. In just a few seconds, they became dry, and I could barely resist the urge to blink.

I often use lubricating drops to keep my eyes moisturized during allergy season. I'm sure that my eyelids play a huge part in protecting them from irritants like pollen, and without them, I just might go blind from all the irritation.

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