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Antarctica eye study: a prospective study of the effects of overwintering on ocular parameters and visual function

Antarctica eye study: a prospective study of the effects of overwintering on ocular parameters and visual function
Antarctica eye study: a prospective study of the effects of overwintering on ocular parameters and visual function
Background

In 2013 five polar explorers attempted to complete the first Trans-Antarctic Winter Traverse (TAWT). This study presents the ophthalmological findings for this group, who overwintered in Antarctica as part of the White Mars Human Science Protocol. Antarctic crews are exposed to extreme cold, chronic hypoxia and altered day-night cycles. Previous studies of Antarctic explorers have focused on the prolonged effect of ultraviolet radiation including the development of ultraviolet keratitis and accelerated cataract formation. This is the first study of its kind to investigate the effect of overwintering in Antarctica on the human eye.

Methods

Pre and post-expedition clinical observations were made including visual acuity, contrast sensitivity, colour vision, auto-refraction, subjective refraction, retinal examination, retinal autofluoresence and retinal thickness, which were graded for comparison. During the expedition additional observations were made on a monthly basis including LogMAR visual acuity, autorefraction and intraocular pressure.

Results

No significant differences between pre and post-expedition observations were found, including visual acuity, contrast sensitivity, colour vision, refraction, visual fields, intraocular pressure and retinal examination. There was a small but statistically significant decrease in retinal thickness across all regions of the retina, except for the macular and fovea, in all explorers. Intra-expedition observations remained within normal limits.

Conclusion

Reassuringly, the human eye remains largely unchanged by exposure to the extreme conditions encountered during the Antarctic winter, however, further research is needed to investigate changes in retinal thickness. This may have implications for scientists who spend prolonged periods of time in the polar regions, as well as those who have prolonged exposure to the extreme cold or chronic hypoxia in other settings.

Altitude, Antarctica, Eye, White Mars
1-8
Stahl, Matthew H.
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Kumar, Alexander
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Lambert, Robert
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Stroud, Michael
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Macleod, David
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Bastawrous, Andrew
f7171f9b-11f3-4034-bf8d-84f6b1148d39
Peto, Tunde
e5511bbd-2ef8-4465-a2b3-46c8cc3ce63e
Burton, Matthew J.
4a0d87d4-48b8-46bb-8b4d-3b3cf754563b
Stahl, Matthew H.
44c77c7c-a77e-467a-9e47-51e7886480b3
Kumar, Alexander
6ce54759-1407-4b47-9d94-27dcc6e28252
Lambert, Robert
7d5d8a24-50e4-4e7d-905a-2c0fbdc7039b
Stroud, Michael
014257c1-dbf1-401f-b4c8-e6bd55178e6b
Macleod, David
13aa91ef-9d54-4c6a-bffb-6b5543bfef74
Bastawrous, Andrew
f7171f9b-11f3-4034-bf8d-84f6b1148d39
Peto, Tunde
e5511bbd-2ef8-4465-a2b3-46c8cc3ce63e
Burton, Matthew J.
4a0d87d4-48b8-46bb-8b4d-3b3cf754563b

Stahl, Matthew H., Kumar, Alexander, Lambert, Robert, Stroud, Michael, Macleod, David, Bastawrous, Andrew, Peto, Tunde and Burton, Matthew J. (2018) Antarctica eye study: a prospective study of the effects of overwintering on ocular parameters and visual function. BMC Ophthalmology, 18 (1), 1-8, [149]. (doi:10.1186/s12886-018-0816-0).

Record type: Article

Abstract

Background

In 2013 five polar explorers attempted to complete the first Trans-Antarctic Winter Traverse (TAWT). This study presents the ophthalmological findings for this group, who overwintered in Antarctica as part of the White Mars Human Science Protocol. Antarctic crews are exposed to extreme cold, chronic hypoxia and altered day-night cycles. Previous studies of Antarctic explorers have focused on the prolonged effect of ultraviolet radiation including the development of ultraviolet keratitis and accelerated cataract formation. This is the first study of its kind to investigate the effect of overwintering in Antarctica on the human eye.

Methods

Pre and post-expedition clinical observations were made including visual acuity, contrast sensitivity, colour vision, auto-refraction, subjective refraction, retinal examination, retinal autofluoresence and retinal thickness, which were graded for comparison. During the expedition additional observations were made on a monthly basis including LogMAR visual acuity, autorefraction and intraocular pressure.

Results

No significant differences between pre and post-expedition observations were found, including visual acuity, contrast sensitivity, colour vision, refraction, visual fields, intraocular pressure and retinal examination. There was a small but statistically significant decrease in retinal thickness across all regions of the retina, except for the macular and fovea, in all explorers. Intra-expedition observations remained within normal limits.

Conclusion

Reassuringly, the human eye remains largely unchanged by exposure to the extreme conditions encountered during the Antarctic winter, however, further research is needed to investigate changes in retinal thickness. This may have implications for scientists who spend prolonged periods of time in the polar regions, as well as those who have prolonged exposure to the extreme cold or chronic hypoxia in other settings.

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More information

Accepted/In Press date: 8 June 2018
e-pub ahead of print date: 25 June 2018
Published date: 2018
Keywords: Altitude, Antarctica, Eye, White Mars

Identifiers

Local EPrints ID: 422101
URI: http://eprints.soton.ac.uk/id/eprint/422101
PURE UUID: 6a504b27-8a76-41ce-b0dc-c9141c65ff87

Catalogue record

Date deposited: 17 Jul 2018 16:30
Last modified: 07 Oct 2020 00:13

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Contributors

Author: Matthew H. Stahl
Author: Alexander Kumar
Author: Robert Lambert
Author: Michael Stroud
Author: David Macleod
Author: Andrew Bastawrous
Author: Tunde Peto
Author: Matthew J. Burton

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