What Is Retinal Vein Occlusion?
A retinal vein occlusion is sometimes referred to as an “eye
stroke.” It’s the blockage of one of the veins returning blood from your retina
back to your heart. Your retina converts light and images into nerve signals
and sends them to your brain via the optic nerve. Blockages from blood clots or
fluid buildup in your retinal veins impairs your retina’s ability to filter
light and your ability to see. The severity of vision loss depends on which
vein is blocked.
What Are the Types of Retinal Vein Occlusion?
There are two types of retinal veins. There’s one central
vein and many smaller branch veins. Likewise, there are two types of retinal
vein occlusion. There’s central retinal vein occlusion and branch retinal vein
Symptoms of Retinal Vein Occlusion
The primary symptom of retinal vein occlusion is a blurring
or loss of vision that’s usually sudden in onset and generally in only one eye.
If it isn’t treated, the blurring or loss of vision usually gets worse in hours
or days. Sometimes, you’ll see dark spots or floaters, which are tiny clumps of
cells or material floating in your eye. In severe cases, a blocked vein will
build up pressure and cause pain in your eye.
It’s important to see your doctor right away if you have
these symptoms because a retinal vein occlusion can lead to other health
What Causes Retinal Vein Occlusion?
Retinal vein occlusions usually occur because your arteries
harden and cause a clot, much like a stroke. Blockages are more common in
people with narrowed or damaged blood vessels, or those with chronic conditions
that cause them. Such diseases include:
- atherosclerosis, which is a hardening of the
- glaucoma, which is optic nerve damage that’s
usually caused by increased pressure
- macular edema, which is fluid leakage into the macula,
or the area of the retina that allows for sharp focus
- high blood pressure
- high cholesterol
- blood disorders that affect clotting
- people over the age of 60
- people who smoke
Diagnosing Retinal Vein Occlusion
This disease is diagnosed with a comprehensive eye exam,
including vision and pressure checks, and examining the surfaces and vessels of
your eye. Other tests to diagnose retinal vein occlusion include:
- optical coherence tomography, in which a
high-definition image is taken of your retina
- ophthalmoscopy, in which your retina is examined
with an ophthalmoscope
- fluorescein angiography, in which a dye is injected
into your arm that then travels to your retinal veins to be photographed for
Your doctor may also perform blood tests for diabetes, high
cholesterol, and blood clotting disorders.
Treating Retinal Vein Occlusion
Blockages in your retinal veins can’t be removed. Treatment
focuses on issues arising from the occlusion, such as:
- laser therapy to reduce edema, or swelling
caused by fluid leakage
- drug injections of corticosteroids to reduce
- a vitrectomy, which is the removal of all or
part of the jelly-like tissue in your eye called the “vitreous humor”
trial shows that a combination of ranibizumab and aflibercept is effective
in restoring vision in patients with macular edema due to a retinal vein
What Is the Outlook for People with Retinal Vein Occlusion?
The outlook for people with this condition depends on its
severity. Many people will recover and regain most of their vision, however for
some, vision may not return.
Those with other eye conditions or complications are less
likely to recover fully. Work with your eye doctor to keep your eyes healthy.
Regular checkups can help prevent further problems.
The condition will sometimes go away on its own and you can regain
Preventing Retinal Vein Occlusion
Because this disease occurs in veins, you can reduce your
risk of it by protecting your blood vessels and maintaining healthy vascular
tissue. Healthy lifestyle and dietary changes include:
- losing weight if you’re overweight
- maintaining a healthy weight
- quitting smoking if you smoke
- controlling diabetes if you have diabetes
- reducing your blood pressure if you have high
- reducing your cholesterol if you have high
- taking aspirin or other blood thinners if recommended
by your doctor
Getting regular eye exams will help your doctor detect and
diagnose any eye diseases early on.