What You Need to Know
Just like every other organ in the body, your vision depends on arteries and veins to carry blood to and from the eyes. Arteries work to bring oxygen and nourishment to the tissues of the eye and the veins function to carry away waste products as well as oxygen depleted blood which eventually goes back to your lungs to pick up more oxygen. Naturally, both the arteries and veins that supply the eyes are very small in comparison to the larger blood vessels that supply the other organs of your body.
The retina of your eye has one main artery and one main vein and both of these blood vessels have even smaller branches, similar to the branches of a tree. When one of these branches off the main vein becomes blocked, this is known as branch retinal vein occlusion or BRVO for short.
Just like a blocked water hose, when this happens, blood and other fluids can flow out of the vein and damage the delicate tissues of the retina. If the fluids spill out into the area of the retina known as the macula (say MACK-you-la), the vision in the center of your visual field, particularly your ability to make out fine details and faces, can be negatively affected.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS?
Just as with retinal detachment [link to the article on retinal detachment here], symptoms may include:
~ An increase in ‘floaters’ which are dark spots, lines or squiggles in your field of vision.
~ Sudden or gradual vision loss in a part or all of one of your eyes.
As with any unexplained change in your vision, if you experience any of these symptoms, please see your eye professional immediately for proper diagnosis and treatment.
WHO IS AT RISK?
BRVO is most common in people over 50, especially those with a history of high blood pressure, diabetes, glaucoma (increased pressure in the eyes) and hardening of the arteries. All of these health conditions can cause damage to the blood vessels and make you more prone to developing BRVO.
How Is BRVO Treated?
Unfortunately, with our current medical technology, BRVO cannot be cured. Treatment is aimed at keeping your vision stable and preventing any further damage by sealing off blood vessels which are leaking fluid into the retina. This sealing is usually done with a type of laser surgery known as focal laser treatment. The laser beam is finely directed to areas of the macula to seal the leaks. Our Retinal Specialist, Dr. David W. Switzer Jr., may also choose to use medications which are injected into the eye to aid in the reduction of swelling around the macula.
Improvement in your vision will take time, sometimes many months. Some patients, even with the best of treatment, never experience any improvement in their vision. Because of the seriousness of this condition, it’s especially important to control your risk factors for developing BRVO.
Keep regular checks on your blood pressure to make sure it stays in the normal range. If you smoke, ask your doctor for help in quitting. Maintain a healthy weight and eat a well balanced diet that contains plenty of fresh vegetables and fruits and that is low in saturated fat. Plus, get regular exercise. BRVO cannot be cured, but you can do a lot to make sure it never happens to you or someone you love!