Optical density (OD) of the crystalline lens has been shown in non-diabetics to increase linearly with age over the first five decades and at an increased rate thereafter; in insulin dependent diabetic (IDDM) patients, lens OD increases with age and with duration of diabetes at a rate similar to that in non-diabetics over the age of 60 years. Recently, it has been established that colour discrimination is abnormal in a majority of young patients with uncomplicated IDDM and angiographically normal retinas. Colour discrimination loss was attributed to functional abnormalities in the retina or neural pathways; yet the possibility exists that increases in lens OD may account for part or all of the colour discrimination loss in IDDM. In the present study, colour discrimination was compared in aretinopathic IDDM patients and age-matched controls, and then in a group of aretinopathic IDDM patients individually matched to controls with respect to lens OD. Colour discrimination was significantly worse in diabetic patients than in age-matched controls, and was significantly worse when diabetic patients were compared with controls matched for OD. The magnitude of the difference in 100 hue error score between diabetic patients and OD matched controls was, however, considerably less than the difference between diabetic patients and age-matched controls. These data suggest that colour discrimination loss in aretinopathic IDDM patients cannot be explained solely on the basis of diabetes induced increases in lens OD, but must involve abnormalities of the retina or its neural connections.
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