ESCRS - Eponymous Ophthalmologists: Ernst Fuchs
ESCRS - Eponymous Ophthalmologists: Ernst Fuchs

Eponymous Ophthalmologists: Ernst Fuchs

The Viennese ocular physician and pathologist who wrote the book.

Eponymous Ophthalmologists: Ernst Fuchs
Published: Monday, July 4, 2022

The name Ernst Fuchs is perhaps most familiar to modern ophthalmologists for the several ocular diseases that bear his name, such as Fuchs’ endothelial dystrophy. However, generations of ophthalmologists from around the world have regarded him as the father of modern ophthalmology and his book, Textbook of Ophthalmology, as the Bible of their field of medicine.

Ernst Fuchs, born in 1851 in Vienna, was the eldest of three children. In 1860, Fuchs entered the Scott’s Gymnasium in Vienna, graduating in 1868. He began his study at the School of Medicine in Vienna, attending lectures by many preeminent teachers of his time, such as Joseph Hyrtl, Ernst Wilhelm von Brücke, Karl Rokitansky, Joseph Škoda, Christian Billroth, and Carl Ferdinand von Arlt. He received his medical doctorate in 1874.

In 1881, Fuchs became professor of ophthalmology at Liege, Belgium, the youngest Austrian-trained graduate to become a professor. In 1885, he returned to Vienna, succeeding Eduard Jaeger Ritter von Jaxtthal (1818–1884) as clinical director at the Vienna eye hospital, later known as Fuchs’ Eye Hospital.


Fuchs was not only an excellent clinical observer but also a skilled microscopist whose research laid the foundation for modern ocular pathophysiology. His collection of microscopic 40,000 samples was the largest of its kind. In 1906, Fuchs described a chronic, unilateral iridocyclitis characterised by iris heterochromia – now known as “Fuchs’ heterochromic uveitis”.

In 1910, he was the first to describe a condition characterised by central corneal clouding, loss of corneal sensation, and formation of epithelial bullae. He called this condition “dystrophia epithelialis corneae.” Subsequent research by Alfred Vogt and others showed the condition to be primarily a disease of the endothelium with later epithelial manifestations. It is now known as Fuchs’ endothelial dystrophy.

Fuchs published the first edition of his Textbook of Ophthalmology in 1889. During the following 21 years, he edited 12 of the 18 English editions of the textbook himself. Maximilian Salzmann, his oldest pupil, edited the later versions. The textbook was also translated into numerous languages, including Japanese, Chinese, Spanish, French, Russian, and Italian. The final edition was published in German in 1945.

Fuchs’s international reputation extended beyond his famous textbook. His groundbreaking research, reported in more than 250 scientific publications, attracted ophthalmologists to his clinic from around the world. Fuchs also delivered lectures at meetings in Indonesia, East Africa, and South America and conducted a coast-to-coast lecture tour in the US. In addition, he had many international patients, including the wife of Naser al-Din, the Qajar Shah of Persia, who came to him for treatment of cataracts.

Ernst Fuchs was also an honorary member of 39 scientific societies, served as President of Honour of the Ophthalmological Society of Madrid, and held numerous honorary doctorates. In 1929, towards the close of his life, the American delegation at the Amsterdam International Ophthalmological Congress held a special banquet in his honour. He died on November 21, 1930, at 79 years old and was buried in Kritzendorf, a small Austrian village on the Donau River.

Reference: A Muller et al. “Professor Ernst Fuchs – A defining career in ophthalmology.” Arch Ophthalmol. 2003; 121(6): 888–891. doi:10.1001/ archopht.121.6.888

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