Does dark adaptation exacerbate diabetic retinopathy? Evidence and a linking hypothesis

Vision Res. 1998 Jun;38(11):1723-9. doi: 10.1016/s0042-6989(98)00004-2.


The paper reviews evidence that before any change in diabetics' fundi, changes occur to blood flow, ERG and visual functions. In the case of colour vision and contrast sensitivity, the changes are partially reversed by breathing oxygen, and therefore are the result of retinal hypoxia. There are also other evidences that hypoxia is a major factor in the development of diabetic retinopathy (DR). Therefore in diabetics with early retinopathy, but normal photopic vision, functional disturbance might appear in dark adaptation, since in such circumstances, (as shown by Linsenmeier and his colleagues) the already low retinal PO2 markedly decreases. This hypothesis has been tested and results consistent with the hypothesis (and with a number of older reports) have been obtained. The significance of this finding to early DR is discussed, and a mechanism suggested whereby prolonged periods of hypoxia during dark adaptation could generate changes in retinal capillaries. Such periods occur each night, and their elimination in diabetics could be therapeutic.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Cell Hypoxia
  • Color Perception / physiology
  • Contrast Sensitivity
  • Dark Adaptation*
  • Diabetic Retinopathy / etiology*
  • Diabetic Retinopathy / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Retina / metabolism
  • Sensory Thresholds / physiology