BACKGROUND: The aim of this study is to determine the serum immunoglobulin (Ig) M and serum viscosity (SV) levels at which retinal changes associated with hyperviscosity syndrome (HVS) as a result of Waldenström's macroglobulinemia (WM) occur. In addition, the effect of plasmapheresis on HVS-related retinopathy was tested. PATIENTS AND METHODS: A total of 46 patients with WM received indirect ophthalmoscopy, laser Doppler retinal blood flow measurements, serum IgM, and SV determinations. A total of 9 patients with HVS were studied before and after plasmapheresis. RESULTS: Mean IgM and SV levels of patients with the earliest retinal changes were 5442 mg/dL and 3.1 cp, respectively. Plasmapheresis improved retinopathy, decreased serum IgM (46.5 +/- 18%; P = .0009), SV (44.7 +/- 17.3%; P = .002), retinal venous diameter (15.3 +/- 5.8%; P = .0001), and increased venous blood speed by +55.2 +/- 22.5% (P = .0004). CONCLUSION: Examination of the retina is useful in identifying the symptomatic threshold of plasma viscosity levels in patients with HVS and can be used to gauge the effectiveness of plasmapheresis treatment.