PURPOSE: Much knowledge has been collected over the past 20 years about light scattering in the eye- in particular in the eye lens- and its visual effect, called straylight. It is the purpose of this review to discuss how these insights can be applied to understanding the slit lamp image.

RESULTS: The slit lamp image mainly results from back scattering, whereas the effects on vision result mainly from forward scatter. Forward scatter originates from particles of about wavelength size distributed throughout the lens. Most of the slit lamp image originates from small particle scatter (Rayleigh scatter). For a population of middle aged lenses it will be shown that both these scatter components remove around 10% of the light from the direct beam. For slit lamp observation close to the reflection angles, zones of discontinuity (Wasserspalten) at anterior and posterior parts of the lens show up as rough surface reflections. All these light scatter effects increase with age, but the correlations with age, and also between the different components, are weak. For retro-illumination imaging it will be argued that the density or opacity seen in areas of cortical or posterior subcapsular cataract show up because of light scattering, not because of light loss. NOTES: (1) Light scatter must not be confused with aberrations. Light penetrating the eye is divided into two parts: a relatively small part is scattered, and removed from the direct beam. Most of the light is not scattered, but continues as the direct beam. This non-scattered part is the basis for functional imaging, but its quality is under the control of aberrations. Aberrations deflect light mainly over small angles (<1°), whereas light scatter is important because of the straylight effects over large angles (>1°), causing problems like glare and hazy vision. (2) The slit lamp image in older lenses and nuclear cataract is strongly influenced by absorption. However, this effect is greatly exaggerated by the light path lengths concerned. This obviates proper judgement of the functional importance of absorption, and hinders the appreciation of the Rayleigh nature of what is seen in the slit lamp image.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)6-25
Number of pages20
JournalOphthalmic and Physiological Optics
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2018

    Research areas

  • Journal Article, Review

ID: 6003379