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Retinal Venous Occlusion

Retinal venous occlusion is a blockage in a vein that communicates with the retina. In some cases, the condition causes a sudden, painless loss of vision. Retinal venous occlusion is a common disorder affecting the retina, second only to diabetic retinopathy as a leading cause of retinal vascular loss of vision. It is seen more often in the elderly and in people with hypertension (high blood pressure). Virginia Mason Franciscan Health ophthalmologists have broad experience treating patients with disorders of the retina, including retinal venous occlusion. For more information about retinal venous occlusion or to schedule an appointment, call 206-223-6840.

  • The most common signs of retinal venous occlusion are a sudden and painless loss of vision, usually in one eye. A minority of patients may experience a gradual loss of vision with blurry, wavy vision.

    • Note: Sudden loss of vision is a serious condition that requires prompt medical attention.
  • Age and hypertension (high blood pressure) are the most common risk factors for retinal venous occlusion. Other risk factors include:

    • Diabetes
    • Glaucoma
    • High cholesterol
    • Smoking
    • Retinal venous occlusion in the other eye

    Having retinal venous occlusion also is a risk factor for other ocular disorders, including macular edema (swelling), retinal tear and a detached retina.

  • Sudden loss of vision is a serious condition that requires prompt medical attention. A retinal venous occlusion is diagnosed using one or more eye exams described below.

    • Dilated fundus (funduscopy) exam
      This exam allows your ophthalmologist or optometrist to examine the blood vessels of your eye, vitreous, optic nerve, macula and retina. After dilating your eyes, your doctor will view these internal structures with a light source called a binocular indirect ophthalmoscope, which is worn on his or her head, along with a hand-held lens that directs the light into your eyes. This exam is especially useful to view the retina at the back of your eye.
    • OCT with fluorescein angiography
      An eye exam called ocular coherence tomography (OCT) provides 3-D imaging of your retina. When combined with fluorescein angiography, it gives your eye doctor the ability to determine if capillaries within the retina are leaking blood, which can occur with a blocked blood vessel.
  • Identification of the type of retinal venous occlusion that has occurred will determine the kind of treatment required.

    • Branch retinal venous occlusion
      Treatment with a laser is used to help seal leaking capillaries. Another treatment showing promise to stop leaking blood vessels is an injection into the eye of an anti-angiogenesis drug. This stops the formation of new blood vessels as well as leakage of fluid from damaged blood vessels. Additional treatments may be recommended if the blocked vein has caused other retinal disorders (retinal tear/detachment). Your eye doctor will talk with you about the amount of vision you can expect to regain following treatment.
    • Central retinal venous occlusion
      Blockage of the central retinal vein that leads to the optic nerve is a serious condition that may lead to permanent loss of eyesight. Presently, there is no cure for a blocked central retinal vein. If a retinal exam reveals the presence of abnormal blood vessels, these may be treated with laser therapy and/or the use of a drug that inhibits blood vessel formation. These two treatments are also used to help prevent the development of glaucoma, which is increased pressure in the eye.