Retinal vein occlusion (RVO) is one of the most common causes of vision impairment around the world. In fact, it is the second leading cause of blindness following diabetic retinopathy. This condition is sometimes referred to as an “eye stroke” as it blocks one of the veins where blood flows from your retina back to your heart. The retina is the part of your eye that lets you focus on images and see them more clearly. When fluids and blood clots build up in your retinal veins, you can become more sensitive to light and impair your ability to see.
Retinal vein occlusion occurs when a blood clot forms in the vein. In some cases, it starts when the veins of the eye become too narrow. It is more common in people with diabetes, and possibly high cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, and other health conditions that affect blood flow.
From subtle to drastic changes, the symptoms of retinal vein occlusion may differ considerably. One may experience a loss of vision or just a painless blurring. It almost always occurs in one eye. At first, the blurring or loss of sight might be slight, but it can get worse over the course of a few hours to a couple of days. In more extreme cases, complete blindness happens almost instantaneously.
If you notice any of these symptoms, schedule for an eye checkup as soon as possible. Retinal vein occlusion has a history of causing permanent damage to the retina and visual impairment. It can also lead to other eye problems.
There are three main ways to diagnose a retinal vein occlusion. One is through ophthalmoscopy where the doctor uses an instrument called ophthalmoscope to examine the retina and look for changes caused by the condition. There is also the use of fluorescein angiography. This test procedure makes use of a dye that is injected into a vein in the arm and travels to the retinal blood vessels. This allows the physician to see the situation of the vessels through special photographs.
The third way of scanning for retinal vein occlusion is through optical coherence tomography (OCT). This tool creates high definition images of the retina by a scanning ophthalmoscope. These photographs can show any edema or swelling in the retina. The doctor will use the OCT images to properly document the progress of the disease throughout the course of your treatment.
While there is currently no way to unblock retinal veins, your eye doctor can still help you manage your symptoms and treat any health issues related to the disease. About 1/3 of all patients may see some improvement in their vision, the others stay the same or gradually improve. The outcome may take a year or more to learn.
Treatments of retinal vein occlusion vary from focal laser therapy to intravitreal injection of anti-vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) drugs. These mainly focus on reducing swelling and prohibiting the growth of macular edema.
If you notice changes in your vision and are suffering from diabetes, consult your ophthalmologist immediately. You should also inform your physician if you are diagnosed with retinal vein occlusion. This way, your healthcare team can formulate a treatment plan for any underlying systemic illnesses.