Significance: Optical coherence tomography (OCT) provides cross-sectional and volumetric images of backscattering from biological tissue that reveal the tissue morphology. The strength of the scattering, characterized by an attenuation coefficient, represents an alternative and complementary tissue optical property, which can be characterized by parametric imaging of the OCT attenuation coefficient. Over the last 15 years, a multitude of studies have been reported seeking to advance methods to determine the OCT attenuation coefficient and developing them toward clinical applications. Aim: Our review provides an overview of the main models and methods, their assumptions and applicability, together with a survey of preclinical and clinical demonstrations and their translation potential. Results: The use of the attenuation coefficient, particularly when presented in the form of parametric en face images, is shown to be applicable in various medical fields. Most studies show the promise of the OCT attenuation coefficient in differentiating between tissues of clinical interest but vary widely in approach. Conclusions: As a future step, a consensus on the model and method used for the determination of the attenuation coefficient is an important precursor to large-scale studies. With our review, we hope to provide a basis for discussion toward establishing this consensus.