What is an Eye-Stroke?

written by Dr Kenneth Fong Choong Sian on 7 February 2013
What is an eye stroke?
I often get asked by my patients if there is such a thing as an eye stroke. We all are well aware of stroke being a blockage of the blood supply to our brain causing loss of movement, loss of speech, and , loss of memory. The eye is actually considered to be part of the brain as the optic nerve which is one of the largest nerves in our body comes directly from the brain to connect to the eye. Any blockage of the blood supply (artery) to the eye or drainage of blood (vein) from the eye can cause retinal artery or retinal vein occlusion.  This is what is known as “eye stroke”.
Retinal artery vs retinal vein occlusion
Retinal artery occlusion is considered more serious than retinal vein occlusion as there is no effective treatment for it. When you get an eye stroke, you will notice sudden loss of vision with no pain. You must seek medical attention as urgent treatment can help save your eye sight. For example, if you have a retinal artery occlusion and you seek help early within 12 hours, we can help dislodge the blockage by reducing the eye pressure in the eye. Laser treatment may be needed to prevent complications from the retinal occlusion like glaucoma and bleeding in the eye. Injection of anti-VEGF drugs into the eye may also be needed to help improve vision.
When will my vision clear?
Mild retinal occlusions can get better by themself and your vision should recover within 1 month. If the occlusion is more severe and causes macula edema (swelling of the nerve), you may need anti-VEGF or steroid injection to treat this. After the injection, your vision should improve within 1 week. You may need further injections if the swelling recurs again.
Retinal occlusion normally happens in people with a history of high blood pressure and high cholesterol. If you smoke, you are also at increased risk of getting an eye stroke.  Once you get a retinal occlusion, you should inform your own general practice doctor about this. Research has shown that you have a higher risk of getting a full stroke or heart attack once you have a retinal occlusion. You may need further medical treatment to prevent this from happening.
Are there any restrictions after I get an eye stroke?
There are no restrictions to your life if you get an eye stroke. If you are a smoker, you should consider stopping smoking. Straining does not increase your risk of eye stroke and you can do normal activities like sex, going to the toilet , or lifting heavy things.
This condition cannot be passed down to your children. If your vision gets worse after treatment, you should seek advice from your eye doctor urgently. Sometimes, you can develop glaucoma (high pressure in the eye) and laser treatment and eye drops may be needed. With the new anti-VEGF medications available now, most cases of retinal occlusion can be treated and you should expect some visual recovery.