A comprehensive model of optical coherence tomography (OCT) is described that includes the interference effects that produce speckle in images of dense heterogeneous tissue. It is based on the extended Huygens–Fresnel formulation of beam propagation in a turbulent atmosphere, adapted to the analysis of OCT. Incorporated in the model is a fractal description of the size distribution of scatterers in tissue. We demonstrate its application in the simulation of images of tissue volumes containing high-contrast targets embedded in a mixture of two sizes of particles. The simulated images show the degradation of image quality caused by speckle noise, along with the benefits of employing a light source with a short coherence time and an objective lens with a high numerical aperture. Based on model results, an estimate of the maximum probing depth is given in terms of the design variables of an OCT scanner and the optical properties of the tissue.
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