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Acta Ophthalmol. 2018 Nov;96 Suppl A113:1-44. doi: 10.1111/aos.13932.

Retinal oximetry and systemic arterial oxygen levels.

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Department of Ophthalmology, University of Iceland, Reykjavik, Iceland.



Continuous peripheral pulse oximetry for monitoring adequacy of oxygenation is probably the most important technological advance for patients' monitoring and safety in the last decades. Pulse oximetry has the disadvantage of measuring the peripheral circulation, and the only mean to measure oxygen content of the central circulation is by invasive technology. Determination of blood oxyhaemoglobin saturation in the retinal vessels of the eye can be achieved noninvasively through spectrophotometric retinal oximetry which provides access to the central nervous system circulation. The aim of the thesis was to determine whether retinal oximetry technique can be applied for estimation of the central nervous system circulation which until now has only been possible invasively. This was achieved by measuring oxyhaemoglobin saturation in three adult subject study groups: in people with central retinal vein occlusion (CRVO) to observe local tissue hypoxia, in patients with severe chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) on long-term oxygen therapy to observe systemic hypoxaemia and in healthy subjects during hyperoxic breathing to observe systemic hyperoxemia. In addition, the fourth study that is mentioned was performed to test whether retinal oximetry is feasible for neonates.


Retinal oximetry in central retinal vein occlusion: Sixteen subjects with central retinal vein occlusion participated in the study. The oxyhaemoglobin saturation of the central retinal vein occlusion affected eye was compared with the fellow unaffected eye. Retinal oximetry in healthy people under hyperoxia: Thirty healthy subjects participated in the study, and the oxyhaemoglobin saturation of retinal arterioles and venules was compared between normoxic and hyperoxic breathing. Retinal oximetry in severe chronic obstructive pulmonary disease: Eleven patients with severe chronic obstructive pulmonary disease participated in the study. Retinal oximetry measurements were made with and without their daily supplemental oxygen therapy. Retinal arteriolar oxyhaemoglobin saturation when inspiring ambient air was compared with blood samples from the radial artery and finger pulse oximetry and healthy controls. The healthy control group was assembled from our database for comparison of oxyhaemoglobin saturation of retinal arterioles and venules during the ambient air breathing. The retinal oximeter is based on a conventional fundus camera and a specialized software. A beam splitter coupled with two high-resolution digital cameras allows for simultaneous acquisition of retinal images at separative wavelengths for calculation of oxyhaemoglobin saturation. In addition, retinal images of 28 full-term healthy neonates were obtained with scanning laser ophthalmoscope combined with modified Oxymap analysis software for calculation of the optical density ratio and vessel diameter RESULTS: Retinal oximetry in central retinal vein occlusion: Mean retinal venous oxyhaemoglobin saturation was 31 ± 12% in CRVO eyes and 52 ± 11% in unaffected fellow eyes (mean ± SD, n = 14, p < 0.0001). The arteriovenous oxygen difference (AV-difference) was 63 ± 11% in CRVO eyes and 43 ± 7% in fellow eyes (p < 0.0001). The variability of retinal venous oxyhaemoglobin saturation was considerable within and between eyes affected by CRVO. There was no difference in oxyhaemoglobin saturation of retinal arterioles between the CRVO eyes and the unaffected eyes (p = 0.49). Retinal oximetry in healthy people under hyperoxia: During hyperoxic breathing, the oxyhaemoglobin saturation in retinal arterioles increased to 94.5 ± 3.8% as compared with 92.0 ± 3.7% at baseline (n = 30, p < 0.0001). In venules, the mean oxyhaemoglobin saturation increased to 76.2 ± 8.0% from 51.3 ± 5.6% (p < 0.0001) at baseline. The AV-difference was markedly lower during hyperoxic breathing as compared with the normoxic breathing (18.3 ± 9.0% versus 40.7 ± 5.7%, p < 0.0001). Retinal oximetry in severe chronic obstructive pulmonary disease: During ambient air breathing, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease subjects had significantly lower oxyhaemoglobin saturation than healthy controls in both retinal arterioles (87.2 ± 4.9% versus 93.4 ± 4.3%, p = 0.02, n = 11) and venules (45.0 ± 10.3% versus 55.2 ± 5.5%, p = 0.01) but the AV-difference was not markedly different (p = 0.17). Administration of their prescribed oxygen therapy significantly increased the oxyhaemoglobin saturation in retinal arterioles (87.2 ± 4.9% to 89.5 ± 6.0%, p = 0.02) but not in venules (45.0 ± 10.3% to 46.7 ± 12.8%, p = 0.3). Retinal oximetry values were slightly lower than finger pulse oximetry (mean percentage points difference = -3.1 ± 5.5) and radial artery blood values (-5.0 ± 5.4). Retinal oximetry study in neonates: The modified version of the retinal oximetry instrument estimated the optical density ratio in retinal arterioles to be 0.256 ± 0.041 that was significantly different from the 0.421 ± 0.089 in venules (n = 28, p < 0.001, paired t-test). The vascular diameter of retinal arterioles was markedly narrower than of venules (14.1 ± 2.7 and 19.7 ± 3.7 pixels, p < 0.001).


The results of this thesis indicate that spectrophotometric retinal oximetry is sensitive to both local and systemic changes in oxyhaemoglobin saturation. Retinal oxyhaemoglobin saturation values are slightly lower than radial artery blood sample and finger pulse oximetry values. The discrepancies between the different modalities are expected to derive from countercurrent exchange between central retinal artery and vein within the optic nerve but calibration issues cannot be excluded as contributing to this difference. Despite these differences, the findings indicate the potential of retinal oximetry for noninvasive real-time measurements of oxyhaemoglobin saturation in central nervous system vessels. Following calibration upgrade and technological improvement, verification retinal oximetry may potentially be applied to critically ill and anaesthesia care patients. The study on combined scanning laser ophthalmoscope and retinal oximetry supports the feasibility of the technique for oximetry analysis in newly born babies.


central retinal vein occlusion; chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; oximetry; retinal vessels; systemic circulation

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