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Retinal Vein Occlusions

What is a Retinal Vein Occlusion?

A retinal vein occlusion is the blockage of one of your retinal veins, which are blood vessels that carry blood back to your heart. Retinal vein occlusion is also divided into two types:

  • Central retinal vein occlusion (CRVO) is a blockage in the main vein of your retina, which is called the central retinal vein.
  • Branch retinal vein occlusion (BRVO) occurs when the blockage is in a smaller branch of veins throughout the retina.

Vascular blockage or blood clots in the retina may occur when the veins of the eye are too narrow. However, other factors that affect blood flow can put you at a higher risk of having retinal vascular occlusion. These risk factors include:

  • atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries
  • diabetes
  • high blood pressure
  • high cholesterol
  • being over the age of 60
  • glaucoma, which is a condition that damages your optic nerve
  • smoking
  • clotting disorders

The primary symptom of retinal vascular occlusion may involve sudden or gradual change in vision. This could include blurry vision, or a partial or complete loss of vision.

The changes in eyesight could be short term or permanent, depending on how quickly you seek treatment, degree of capillary damage, and if you have other health conditions. You should make an appointment with your ophthalmologist, or retina specialist, right away if you experience any changes in your vision.

The condition can occasionally lead to complications and more serious symptoms. Vision may be severely and permanently affected if any of the following complications occur:

Macular edema is a swelling in the macula, or the central part of your retina, due to a leakage from damaged capillaries.

Neovascularization is an abnormal growth of blood vessels caused by poor blood flow and a lack of oxygen to your retina.

Neovascular glaucoma involves high pressure in your eye due to abnormal blood vessel growth impeding normal drainage of eye fluid. This is a serious complication. It’s associated with severe vision loss and possibly loss of the eye.

Your retina specialist will perform a comprehensive exam to diagnose retinal vascular occlusion. They’ll check your vision, pressure within your eyes, and the physical appearance of your eyes. Your doctor will assess your eye function and the look of the pupil. They may also measure your blood pressure and suggest a blood test to check for blood clotting conditions. Your doctor may suggest other heart tests if they suspect blood clots are coming from somewhere else in your body.

The best way to prevent retinal vascular occlusion is to identify and treat the risk factors. Since retinal vascular occlusion stems from vascular issues, it’s important to make lifestyle and dietary changes to protect your blood vessels and keep your heart healthy. These changes include:

  • exercising
  • losing weight or maintaining a healthy weight
  • eating a healthy diet low in saturated fat
  • not smoking or quitting smoking
  • controlling diabetes by keeping your blood sugar at a healthy level

To treat retinal vascular occlusion, your doctor may recommend medication such as blood thinners or injections into the eye.

Medications used to treat retinal vein occlusion include:

  • antivascular endothelial growth factor (anti-VEGF) drugs such as Avastin, Eylea, and Lucentis, which are injected into the eye
  • corticosteroid drugs that are injected into your eye to control the swelling

In some cases, laser therapy can be used to treat macular edema and/or abnormal blood vessel growth, and to keep more damage from occurring.

Depending on the severity of your condition it is possible to recover and regain most of their vision capabilities. It’s also possible that your vision will not return. Since retinal vascular occlusion typically only affects one eye, in time your brain should adjust to the change in vision. If you have other eye conditions or complications from retinal vascular occlusion, such as complete vision loss or glaucoma, you may not fully recover your vision. You’ll need to work with your doctor to ensure that your eye conditions are managed properly.