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Identifying Retinal Risks

It’s vital to stay on top of one’s health in every aspect, as ailments in one part of the body can affect the system as a whole. The eyes are no exception—and with constantly evolving technologies and accessibility, ophthalmic disease can be detected earlier. Whether a person discovers retinal vascular disease from a check-up or after experiencing concerning indicators, Florida Retina Institute is available to guide one through an understandably frightening circumstance.

According to Dr. Jaya Kumar, a board-certified ophthalmologist and a fellowship-trained vitreoretinal surgeon at Florida Retina Institute, retinal artery occlusion is especially critical, and it cannot be detected until symptoms emerge. However, education and awareness of the different types of retinal vascular disease are key to identifying and addressing the next steps.

“Retinal artery occlusion is a stroke equivalent in the eye. The major warning sign to look out for is sudden painless loss of vision over a portion or the entire field of vision,” Dr. Kumar says.

That is why it is urgent to seek immediate care if a painless loss of vision or blurriness occurs. The physicians at Florida Retina Institute consider a retinal artery occlusion an emergency, and will often send patients to emergency care in the likely event of a stroke occurrence. The alternative could be life-threatening.

“Essentially, there’s a blockage to the central retinal artery, which supplies oxygen to your eye and a similar obstruction could be happening with the blood supply to your brain. Whenever a patient comes in with a sudden loss of vision, we’re looking for any signs of an artery occlusion. While we’re doing a dilated eye exam, we’re looking for cholesterol plaques or clots in the blood vessels. We also perform imaging testing with an optical coherence tomography (OCT), which is a cross-section scan through the retina, looking for any swelling in the retinal layers,” says Dr. Kumar.

“We send these patients to the emergency room to have a stroke work-up, which includes imaging of the brain, like an MRI or a CT scan. We also recommend testing to identify the source of the clots which may include carotid artery ultrasound to look for plaque and echocardiogram to look for any disease in the heart valves. In some cases, blood sedimentation rate and temporal arteries may be evaluated if giant cell arteritis is suspected.”

If an extensive plaque buildup is identified in a patient’s carotid arteries, vascular surgeons may perform a life-saving surgical procedure to improve blood flow to the brain.

Retinal artery occlusions are equivalent to strokes because of a 44 times higher chance of developing a stroke in the first week since the onset, and a 6.8 times higher risk in the first 30 days, Dr. Kumar explains. Silent strokes that are detectable with an MRI are experienced by 89% of those affected by retinal artery occlusion, which is categorized as either central retinal artery occlusion (CRAO) or branch retinal artery occlusion (BRAO).

The major risk factors for retinal artery occlusion include smoking, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, diabetes and cardiac disease. Some of these risk factors are modifiable while others are not—but prevention also involves consulting a trusted eye specialist right away if there is a drastic change in vision. While full vision loss is not inevitable with this disease, it is possible. When the occlusion is in a central part of the retina, there is more of a vision loss than if the occlusion is in the peripheral part of the retina. Different cases may cause higher risks of total vision loss depending on the area affected.

The physicians at Florida Retina Institute will monitor patients for complications over time, checking for any bleeding in the eye, abnormal vessels that cause glaucoma, or swelling in the macula. Treatment for these complications may vary from injections in the eye, laser therapy, eye drops and surgical intervention. The well-informed patients at Florida Retina Institute benefit from staying on top of check-ups and are encouraged to address concerns promptly.

“If you have a change in your vision, such as sudden, painless vision loss, you should not brush it aside,” warns Dr. Kumar, “You should prioritize having your eyes evaluated to make sure it’s not something as serious as a stroke.”


Florida Retina Institute
Multiple locations in Central Florida including Orlando, Kissimmee, Lake Mary and Clermont
(877) 357-3846