What is a retinal artery or vein occlusion?
A good blood supply to the eye is important to allow it to function properly. Arteries supply blood to the eye and veins carry it away. A retinal artery or vein occlusion is when there is a blockage in one of the arteries or veins of the eye, respectively. For this reason, a retinal artery or vein occlusion is sometimes referred to as a ‘stroke in the eye.’ Retinal artery or vein occlusions can happen in anyone, with the risk increasing with age. Heart disease (or angina), high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels and diabetes all increase the risk too. Retinal artery occlusions can be categorised as central retinal artery occlusion (CRAO) or branch retinal artery occlusion (BRAO). Likewise, retinal vein occlusions can be categorised as central retinal vein occlusion (CRVO) or branch retinal vein occlusion (BRVO).
What are the symptoms of a retinal artery or vein occlusion?
CRAO and CRVO affect the whole eye, whereas BRAO and BRVO affect part of the eye. Symptoms occur all of a sudden and include mild to severe loss of central vision, distorted vision, blind spots, or loss of peripheral or side vision. If the symptoms are mild, it is possible for a person not to notice the artery or vein occlusion. This usually only happens in BRAO or BRVO, as CRAO and CRVO normally have more of a damaging effect on the eye and are easily noticed.
What is the treatment for retinal artery or vein occlusion?
To have any significant positive impact, treatment must be started within a few hours of a retinal artery or vein occlusion occurring. If the treatment is successful, which is only a handful of cases, meaningful vision can be recovered but probably not as good as before. Otherwise, the vision loss can be permanent. Treatment options include massaging the affected eyeball, lowering the eye pressure by withdrawing fluid from the eye, or inhaling a gas mixture of oxygen and carbon dioxide. In the long-term, a regular review of both the affected eye and the good eye will be required. A full health review will also be needed as soon as possible to review possible heart disease, blood pressure, cholesterol levels and sugar levels.
If you experience any sudden vision loss, consult your eye care practitioner immediately.
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