The use of in vivo confocal microscopy (IVCM) is rapidly emerging as an important clinical tool to evaluate changes in corneal sensory nerves as a surrogate measure for diabetic peripheral neuropathy. Commonly used metrics to document and grade the severity of diabetes and risk for diabetic peripheral neuropathy include nerve fiber length, density, branching and tortuosity. In addition to corneal nerves, thinning of the retinal fiber layer has been shown to correlate with the severity of diabetic disease. Here, we present a case report on a pre-diabetic 60-year-old native American woman with abnormal corneal nerve morphology and retinal nerve fiber layer thinning. Her past medical history was positive for illicit substance abuse. IVCM showed a decrease in nerve fiber density and length, in addition to abnormally high levels of tortuosity. OCT revealed focal areas of reduced retinal nerve fiber layer thickness that were asymmetric between eyes. This is the first report of abnormally high levels of tortuosity in the corneal sub-basal nerve plexus in a patient with a past history of cocaine abuse. It also demonstrates, for the first time, that illicit substance abuse can have long-term adverse effects on ocular nerves for years following discontinued use of the drug. Studies using IVCM to evaluate changes in corneal nerve morphology in patients with diabetes need to consider a past history of illicit drug use as an exclusionary measure.
Multiple ocular and systemic factors can impede accurate assessment of the corneal sub-basal nerve plexus by IVCM in diabetes.
Although current history was negative for illicit substance abuse, past history can have longstanding effects on corneal nerves and the retinal nerve fiber layer.
Illicit drug use must be considered an exclusionary measure when evaluating diabetes-induced changes in corneal nerve morphology and the retinal nerve fiber layer.