Retinal damage produced by intraocular fiber optic light

Am J Ophthalmol. 1978 Apr;85(4):519-37. doi: 10.1016/s0002-9394(14)75250-x.


We exposed the maculas of owl monkey eyes to light from an intraocular fiber optic light source similar to that used for human pars plana vitrectomy. Retinal irradiance was calculated at 0.22 W/cm2. Eyes were exposed for time intervals ranging from 30 minutes to five minutes and were observed after light treatment by fundus photography and fluorescein angiography. Tissue was obtained for light and electron microscopy by animal killing at one hour, 24 hours, one week, and four weeks. Fundus lesions were seen ophthalmoscopically as early as five hours following 30 minutes of light exposure. Significant damage to the photoreceptor layer and less damage to the pigment epithelium was present by light and electron microscopy as early as one hour after 30 minutes of light exposure. By one month complete loss of photoreceptors with Müller cell junctions between inner retina and flattened abnormal retinal pigment epithelium cells was observed. Fluorescein angiography revealed significant staining of the pigment epithelium and outer retina 24 hours after 30 minutes of light exposure. No leakage from retinal vessels occurred. At one month following light treatment, transmission of choroidal fluorescein through window defects in the pigment epithelium was present with no retinal staining. The threshold for ophthalmoscopically visible fundus lesions in this study was 15 minutes of light exposure. Ten minutes of light treatment was the threshold for microscopic changes. Short light exposures damaged the outer retina and spared the pigment epithelium. Removing a substantial amount of the infrared light from our light source did not protect the retina from damage. Removal of light between 400 and 500 nm is probably more helpful in protecting the retina. Intermittent light exposure of the retina seemed as harmful as uninterrupted illumination for the same cumulative period of time. We speculate that the retinal damage caused by intraocular fiber optic light has primarily a photic mechanism. Damage to the retinal pigment epithelium may be secondary to outer retinal damage. The present levels of intraocular light used for human pars plana vitrectomy are probably safe in most instances. Lengthy preretinal membrane stripping procedures during vitrectomy, however, may pose a threat of light damage to the retina. This damage must be appreciated as continued efforts are made to produce brighter sources of intraocular light for human pars plana vitrectomy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Fiber Optic Technology* / instrumentation
  • Haplorhini
  • Humans
  • Light / adverse effects*
  • Optical Fibers
  • Photoreceptor Cells / injuries
  • Photoreceptor Cells / pathology
  • Photoreceptor Cells / ultrastructure
  • Pigment Epithelium of Eye / injuries
  • Pigment Epithelium of Eye / pathology
  • Pigment Epithelium of Eye / ultrastructure
  • Retina / injuries*
  • Retina / pathology
  • Retina / ultrastructure
  • Vitreous Body / surgery