Histological studies from autopsy specimens have characterized hard exudates as a composition of lipid-laden macrophages or noncellular materials including lipid and proteinaceous substances (hyaline substances). However, the characteristics of hard exudates in living patients have not been examined due to insufficient resolution of existing equipment. In this study, we used adaptive optics scanning laser ophthalmoscopy (AO-SLO) to examine the characteristics of hard exudates in patients with retinal vascular diseases. High resolution imaging using AO-SLO enables morphological classification of retinal hard exudates into two types, which could not be distinguished either on fundus examination or by spectral domain optical coherence tomography (SD-OCT). One, termed a round type, consisted of an accumulation of spherical particles (average diameter of particles: 26.9 ± 4.4 μm). The other, termed an irregular type, comprised an irregularly shaped hyper-reflective deposition. The retinal thickness in regions with round hard exudates was significantly greater than the thickness in regions with irregular hard exudates (P = 0.01 â †'0.02). This differentiation of retinal hard exudates in patients by AO-SLO may help in understanding the pathogenesis and clinical prognosis of retinal vascular diseases.
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