Red “Color Channel” May Aid in Screening for Diabetic Eye Disease

In photographs of the eye used to screen for diabetes-related eye disease, separating out the red color channel can help show some abnormalities -- especially in racial/ethnic minority patients, suggests a study in the February 2017 issue of Optometry and Vision Science, official journal of the American Academy of Optometry. The open-access article is titled “Comparison of Cysts in Red and Green Images for Diabetic Macular Edema.” Inspecting the channel for red (long-wavelength) reflected light can improve the ability to detect diabetic macular edema, a complication of diabetes that can lead to blindness. Using the red color channel of these images may have a special advantage in detecting macular edema in racial/ethnic minority patients -- in whom natural pigments in back of the eye tend to be darker. The lead author of the new study was Mastour A. Alhamami, Ph.D., of Indiana University School of Optometry, Bloomington. The researchers analyzed standard color fundus photographs obtained from 2,047 adult patients with diabetes. Ninety percent of patients identified themselves as racial/ethnic minorities (other than non-Hispanic white). The study was performed in a medically under-served group, most without access to routine eye care. For patients with diabetes, regular dilated eye examinations (at least once yearly) are recommended to detect early signs of diabetic eye disease. One major finding in diabetic eye disease is macular edema (a fluid accumulation in the retina) resulting from leaky blood vessels in the back of the eye. This condition is a leading cause of vision loss among working-age adults with diabetic eye disease. The retinal photographs showed clinically significant macular edema in 148 patients.
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