Eye Diseases in Focus

Optical Coherence Tomography: How Infrared Radiation Helps to Identify Tiny Structures in the Eye

Photo: Measuring of eyes with the optical coherence tomography (Source: ZEISS)

The road from the lab to the doctor's practice was astoundingly short: it took only six years from the initial scientific description of Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT) to the market launch of the first products. Today, ophthalmologists all over the world work with OCT systems from ZEISS for the examination of patients suffering from serious retinal diseases. The market success was preceded by the company's close collaboration with the US pioneers of OCT technology initiated in the 1990s. This partnership is in line with a tradition established by company founder Carl Zeiss: to develop products sharply focused on practical requirements by cultivating direct dialog with scientists. The market triumph of OCT technology is also an excellent example of the transfer of research and knowledge from science to industry that is often demanded these days.

As the optical equivalent of acoustic ultrasound technology, OCT delivers an image of the inner structure of a body part. Instead of using high, inaudible tones, however, OCT utilizes light in the infrared range similar to that used in heat lamps. In terms of resolution, light is far superior to sound: with OCT it is possible to distinguish between two points separated by a mere five thousandth of a millimeter – this corresponds to one tenth the thickness of a human hair. The ultrasound normally used on the eye until now achieves a resolution of only a few tenths of a millimeter.

OCT allows the ophthalmologist to detect abnormalities in the individual layers of the retina and on the macula – the point of sharpest vision in the eye. Such changes may be caused by diabetes or old age. In addition, OCT enables the doctor to detect changes to the retinal nerve fibers at an early stage and therefore diagnose the onset of glaucoma.

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More information about the topic: products for optical coherence tomography by Carl Zeiss Meditec AG