1. Disturbance of vision commonly accompanies hypoglycaemia. This study was designed to investigate the nature of the visual disturbance, the blood glucose threshold at which the disturbance occurred and the physiological basis.

2. Measurements were made of the corrected visual acuity, colour vision (100 Hue test), visual evoked potentials (VEP), electroencephalography (EEG) frequency analysis and psychometry (digit recall) during stepwise induction of controlled hypoglycaemia produced by an intravenous insulin infusion. Six male volunteers and five insulin-dependent diabetic subjects were studied.

3. During hypoglycaemia corrected visual acuity was unchanged. Colour vision was significantly impaired. Baseline VEP were normal in both groups but significantly prolonged during hypoglycaemia (mean increment 10.8 ms) and increased by >5 ms in nine out of 11 subjects. Quantitative EEG analysis demonstrated slowing with a power density spectral shift from fast α to slow α, θ and δ which correlated with VEP latency and amplitude changes.

4. The findings have clinical implications. A deterioration in colour vision is likely to impair the ability to read reagent strips by eye. VEP measurements in diabetic patients are likely to be misleading if hypoglycaemia is present; EEG changes are a sensitive index of cortical dysfunction during hypoglycaemia and provide a theoretical basis for developing a portable device to detect early hypoglycaemia.

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