Retinal Conditions

Retinal Artery Occlusion (RAO)

Retinal artery occlusion is an ocular emergency and poses a serious health risk. If you, or someone you know, is experiencing any of the symptoms associated with retinal artery occlusion – seek medical attention immediately – retinal artery occlusion could be a sign of a life-threatening medical problem.

Retinal artery occlusion (RAO), also known as a stroke of the eye, is blockage of one of the arteries that supplies blood and oxygen to the retina. These blockages are usually caused by a blood clot or fat deposit becoming stuck in the artery and may have travelled from elsewhere in the body, such as the heart. Retinal artery occlusion can cause a sudden, severe loss of eyesight and is completely painless.

In worst-case scenarios, retinal artery occlusion can cause immediate, permanent blindness.

A blockage of the retinal arteries should be considered a warning sign of other potential health risks. If a blood clot moves to the brain or the heart, it may cause a stroke or heart attack, respectively. It is crucial to seek immediate medical attention.

Symptoms of Retinal Artery Occlusion (RAO)

The symptoms of retinal artery occlusion are distinct and painless. The symptoms are:

  • Sudden blindness in one eye
  • Sudden blurred vision in one eye

Due to the extreme health risks associated with retinal artery occlusion, it is important to schedule regular eye exams with your retinal specialist.

Causes of Retinal Artery Occlusion (RAO)

The specific cause of vascular blockages or blood clots in the retina leading to retinal artery occlusion is unknown. The most common source of blood clots are the heart and carotid artery in the neck.

Risk factors for central retinal artery occlusion are:

  • Diabetes
  • High-blood pressure / hypertension
  • High cholesterol
  • Heart problems including irregular rhythm or valve issues
  • Carotid artery disease
  • Smoking
  • Being over the age of 60

Diagnosing Retinal Artery Occlusion (RAO)

Diagnosis of retinal artery occlusion will begin with a comprehensive dilated retinal examination. To determine the nature and severity of damage, additional diagnostic testing may be called for.

These additional tests include measurement of intraocular pressure, slit lamp examination, and fluorescein angiography to evaluate blood flow through the vessels in the back of the eye.

Ultimately, patients may need to be referred to a hospital to undergo further testing in order to identify the cause of the blockage and whereit stems from. Ultrasound evaluation of the carotid artery and heart may be required. Further testing candetermine if this condition is a warning sign of other health problems.

Treatment of Retinal Artery Occlusion (RAO)

Presently, there are no treatments to unblock retinalarteries. If the blockage is detected quickly, retinal laser treatment or clot busting medication may be effective. Unfortunately, for the majority of patients, the blockage is permanent and will require ongoing assessment to prevent further vision loss.

Due to the increased risk for those with diabetes, responsible management of blood sugar levels is important. Maintaining a healthy weight, eating a low-fat diet, exercising regularly, controlling hypertension, and quitting smoking are all good measures to take for reducing the risk of retinal artery occlusion.