What is Central Retinal Artery Occlusion?

Submitted by Elman Retina Group on January 18, 2016

First described in 1859, central retinal artery occlusion occurs when the central artery that supplies blood to the retina becomes blocked. (The retina is a thin tissue on the back of the inner eye that gathers visual images). The most common cause of an arterial block is an embolus. Emboli are clots (often formed by atherosclerotic plaque) that float in the bloodstream and can become stuck in an artery, causing a lack of blood flow to any tissue downstream from the blockage. Heart disease and high cholesterol may increase your risk of emboli and blood clots.

What are the signs and symptoms of central retinal artery occlusion?

The most common symptom of central retinal artery occlusion is a very sudden onset of painless and severe vision loss in one eye (though symptoms may present in both eyes). Upon an examination by an ophthalmologist, the affected pupil often demonstrates a poor response to direct light, but will quickly constrict when the unaffected eye is illuminated. Nearby arteries may appear to be bloodless, and sometimes an embolus, if present, can be seen on examination with special instruments.

What kind of treatment is available for central retinal artery occlusion?

Patients with central artery occlusion typically experience significantly profound vision loss in the affected eye. If blood supply to the retina is blocked for too long, then vision loss is permanent (which can occur as soon as 90 minutes after occlusion). Even with treatment, visual acuity is not often improved following this type of occlusion.

However, immediate treatment (provided within 24 hours after the onset of symptoms) may help to dislodge an embolus and restore some or all of the blood flow to the retina. Treatment may include massaging the closed eyelid with a fingertip and drugs that reduce inner eye pressure.

The Elman Retina Group wants you to be prepared. If you or someone you know experiences sudden and painless vision loss in one or both eyes, seek professional help right away.