Central Retinal Arterial Occlusion

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Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is used to treat sudden blurry vision or blindness caused by a blocked artery in the eye. During these treatments, you breathe pressurized oxygen while you lie inside a clear plastic tube. The extra oxygen can help restore your vision. Each treatment can take up to 2 hours. Side effects from the treatment are rare.

What is hyperbaric oxygen therapy?

Hyperbaric [hahy-per-bar-ik] or high pressure oxygen therapy is a treatment for many kinds of illnesses and injuries, including central retinal arterial occlusion. During this treatment, you breathe pure oxygen in a special chamber where the air pressure is two or three times higher than normal. This lets your lungs take in more oxygen than they normally can. The extra oxygen can help restore your vision and prevent damage to your retina.

What are the risks and/or side effects?

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is usually considered safe and side effects are rare. However, there are some risks associated with the high air pressure used. These risks include:

  • Ruptured eardrum
  • Collapsed lung
  • Temporary nearsightedness (not being able to clearly see things that are far away). This usually goes away in a few days or weeks after your last treatment.

Another risk with hyperbaric oxygen therapy is seizure [see-zher] caused by having too much oxygen in your body. This is not life-threatening.

Pregnant women should not have hyperbaric oxygen therapy.

What are the benefits?

The retina [ret-n-uh] is the back part of your eye that senses light. The retina needs more oxygen than any other part of your body. If you have an occlusion [uh-kloo-zhuh n] or blockage in one of the arteries that carries blood to your retina, your retina will not get the oxygen it needs. This can damage your retina and cause blurry vision or blindness in that eye. The blurry vision or blindness can be either short term or permanent.

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy increases the amount of oxygen reaching your retina and can make the arteries in your retina wider. It can keep your retina healthy and help restore your eyesight after an artery is blocked.

How do I prepare?

You should not drink any alcohol within 8 hours of hyperbaric oxygen therapy.

Because oxygen can cause a fire if there is a spark, you should never bring a lighter or any device with a battery in it into the treatment area.

Do not use skin care products with petroleum jelly before treatment. Petroleum is also a fire hazard around oxygen.

How is it done or administered?

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy usually is given at a special outpatient clinic. If you are already hospitalized, you might get the treatment in the hospital.

You will lie on a table inside a long clear plastic tube. The tube will be sealed and filled with pressurized oxygen. You might feel popping or fullness in your ears, similar to the way you feel taking off in an airplane. If this happens, it can help to swallow or yawn.

The clinic staff will be able to see and hear you during your treatment and you can talk to them. You should try to relax and breathe normally. You might be able to watch TV or listen to music. Your treatment could take up to 2 hours. Then the tube will be slowly depressurized. You might feel tired or lightheaded afterwards. This should go away soon.

When will I know the results?

Central retinal arterial occlusion can have serious complications, including permanent blindness. It is important to start treatment right away.

Your doctor will evaluate you to find out how well the treatment is working. This can depend on the following factors:

  • Whether the treatment is started within 8 hours after the artery became blocked
  • How much of the artery is blocked
  • How much of the retina is damaged
  • Whether enough oxygen gets to the retina to keep it healthy

You may need many treatments with hyperbaric oxygen.

What are follow-up requirements and options?

You should keep all of your appointments for hyperbaric oxygen therapy. Each treatment builds on the one before to help you get better. Tell your doctor if you have any questions or concerns about your treatment.

Quitting smoking can also help increase the amount of oxygen reaching your retina.

After your treatment is complete, you should follow up with your eye doctor.

What should I expect during recovery?

After a hyperbaric oxygen treatment, you should:

  • Get plenty of rest for the next 24 hours.
  • Drink lots of fluids; avoid alcohol and caffeinated drinks such as coffee, tea, and colas.
  • Avoid taking hot showers or tub baths for 24 hours.
  • Not participate in any strenuous activities for 48 hours.
  • Not fly in any private or commercial aircraft for at least 24 hours.