A sudden loss of vision in one eye is a frightening occurrence, and quickly finding the cause and intervening with an appropriate treatment is vital. One such cause, a retinal artery occlusion, also known as an eye stroke, is due to a loss of blood flow to the affected eye's retina. It may surprise you that strokes can affect more than just the brain, and eye strokes can lead to serious long-term vision problems if left untreated or ignored. Below is more information about this problem and what you should know about its diagnosis and treatment.
What Is an Eye Stroke?
An eye stroke specifically refers to a condition where the affected retina experiences a sudden loss of blood flow. This interruption in blood flow results in either temporary or permanent blindness and usually occurs without warning and without any pain. Eye strokes can affect either the arteries or veins and can occur in the periphery or center of the retina, too.
While an eye stroke can be caused by a blockage inside an affected blood vessel, it can also occur in individuals with low blood pressure. Whenever the retina fails to gain enough oxygen flow, an eye stroke is the end result as part of the retina begins to die. Ultimately, complete loss of the retina’s functionality is a possibility if the condition recurs, so early intervention is key.
Diagnosing an Eye Stroke
Determining if an eye stroke has occurred requires an evaluation of symptoms and the use of several diagnostic tests. Here are some indicators that an affected person has likely experienced an eye stroke:
- Sudden, painless loss of vision in one eye. The most frightening of eye stroke symptoms is the disappearance of eyesight without any warning or symptoms in advance. This loss of sight can occur at any time of day or night, but it often happens during the nighttime hours. If there are other symptoms associated with the loss of vision, such as pain, fever or fatigue, then an alternative diagnosis should be suspected, such as anterior ischemic optic neuropathy, or what is commonly called stroke of the optic nerve.
- Family history of eye strokes and other cardiovascular disease. As with most diseases of the cardiovascular system, knowing that your relatives have experienced eye strokes or similar conditions can help doctors with a diagnosis.
- Treatment for high blood pressure. Ironically enough, abnormally low blood pressure is believed to be a cause of eye strokes. Individuals who take high blood pressure medication often experience a dramatic drop in blood pressure during sleep, and the reduced blood flow to the retina causes cellular loss.
Ophthalmologists use a variety of diagnostic tools to assist them in their work, including magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), injectable dye studies, eye pressure measurements, and slit-lamp examinations.
Treating an Eye Stroke
If your eye doctor determines that an eye stroke is the underlying cause of your vision loss, then there are several treatment options available, including these most common interventions:
- Corticosteroids. Steroid medications are often effective for treating eye strokes, especially if swelling is present within the blood vessels of the retina. These medicines can improve circulation within the affected eye and also strengthen weak arteries or veins.
- Antithrombotic agents. If the underlying cause of an eye stroke is a clot within a vessel, then the clot-dissolving medications may help alleviate the problem and prevent future strokes.
- Carbon dioxide breathing treatment. Blood vessel dilation can be helpful in restoring circulation, and breathing oxygen infused with carbon dioxide can help dilate affected arteries or veins.
Other treatment options may be available depending on your ophthalmologist’s preferences and other mitigating factors, such as the presence of conditions such as glaucoma or cataracts.
Schedule an appointment with your eye doctor immediately if you experience any of the symptoms mentioned in this blog.