Retinal vein occlusion (RVO) is the second most common cause of vision loss from retinal vascular disorders. RVO is a popular topic among researchers today, who are attempting to discover new and effective treatment options for this potentially irreversible condition.
Retinal vein occlusion occurs when there is blockage in the veins that carry blood away from the retina. There are two main types of RVO: central retinal vein occlusion (CRVO) and branch retinal vein occlusion (BRVO).
CRVO occurs when there is blockage in the central vein. While it’s a less common type of RVO, it poses the most significant risk of vision loss.
BRVO occurs when there is blockage in the smaller retinal veins. It is approximately three times more common than CRVO.
In both types of RVO, there is no way to reverse the obstruction—only treatment options to prevent further occlusion in the optic veins. Additionally, the disorder can cause other ocular conditions that can lead to vision loss.
Causes and risk factors
There are various pre-existing conditions and risk factors that can contribute to the development of retinal vein occlusion. In cases of arteriosclerosis, RVO is likened to an “eye stroke”—the arteries around the retinal veins harden and put pressure on them, causing a clot and restricting blood flow away from the eye.
Other risk factors include diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, and age.
Both types of RVO have similar symptoms including blurry vision and sudden vision loss, which is painless for the patient.
With CRVO, you may also experience cloudy, distorted, warped, or wavy vision. Additionally, you could lose your eyesight.
To diagnose retinal vein occlusion, your optometrist or ophthalmologist will likely run tests to get an in-depth look at your ocular system.
Visual acuity test: assess your eyesight with a Snellen chart. This test is usually performed at your routine ocular exam.
Dilated eye exam: use special drops to dilate your pupils, which will allow the doctor to examine your retina and optic nerve more closely.
Fluorescein angiography (FA): take pictures of the eye to examine the blood flow at the back of the retina.
Optical coherence tomography (OCT): take cross-section pictures of the back of the eye and measure the thickness of the retina.
Treatments are meant to manage the underlying health conditions that caused the initial blockage and prevent further complications from the occlusion. Some options may include the following:
Anti-angiogenic drugs: prevent the growth of abnormal blood vessels in the macula, which can cause macular edema and vision loss, by targeting vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF).
Steroid intravitreal eye implants: release steroid that can reduce swelling in the back of the eye, which can help to prevent more damage to the macula.
Laser photocoagulation: seal any areas where blood vessels are leaking and affecting your eyesight.
While some risk factors and causes are uncontrollable, managing the aspects you can control could prevent RVO. For example, exercising, maintaining a healthy weight, and quitting smoking could help improve your blood flow and thereby reduce your chances of developing the disorder.
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