Insight E-Newsletter - March 2013


Welcome to the March edition of "Insight". This month, we shine a spotlight on retinal vein occlusion (RVO), a serious eye disease that can be successfully treated if it's caught early enough.

Read on to find out more about how RVO affects vision and how it can be treated; learn risk factors and prevention tips; and meet an RVO patient who's not letting vision loss stop him from leading a full, active life.

The 411 on retinal vein occlusion

Retinal vein occlusion (RVO) is a serious eye disease that could be compared to having a stroke in the eye. It Close-up image of man's eyeoccurs when a blood clot slows or stops circulation in a vein within the eye's light-sensitive retinal tissue. That blood clot can cause fluid to leak into the macula, the part of the eye that enables us to focus and make out fine details. It can also cause the growth of new blood vessels within the eye that can interfere with vision.

The result is blurred vision, significant vision loss or, at worst, total blindness in the affected eye(s).

There are two types of RVO: central (CRVO) and branch (BRVO). With CRVO, the blockage happens in the main retinal vein. It is the least common form of RVO, but is still a major sight-threatening condition. BRVO, however, is about five times more common than CRVO, and occurs when the blockage builds up in a smaller vein of the eye.


The blood clots caused by RVO can happen without warning and often without symptoms. As a result, you may not know you have it until vision loss has already set in – and could be permanent. That's why it's so important that you and your family get your eyes checked regularly.

But when RVO does present symptoms, they can include blurred or distorted vision, mild to significant vision loss (blind spots), total blindness in the affected eye(s) and sensitivity to light.


The blood clots caused by RVO can't be reversed, but luckily, treatments​ are available to help slow the progression of vision loss or even improve remaining vision.

Here are a few of the most common treatments for RVO:

  • Anti-angiogenic drugs
    Anti-angiogenic drugs are injected into the affected eye, sometimes on a monthly basis for two years or longer, to help reduce the growth of abnormal blood vessels in the macula. The only anti-angiogenic therapy currently approved by Health Canada for the treatment of vision loss due to macular edema caused by RVO is Lucentis.

  • Steroid intravitreal (eye) implants
    Dexamethasone implants contain a very potent steroid that can reduce swelling in the back of the eye, helping to lessen or prevent more damage to the macula. Under local anesthetic, an eye doctor can inject a maximum of two implants into the back of the eye. It's important to note, however, that this treatment can lead to cataracts or glaucoma in a large number of patients.

  • Laser photocoagulation
    Using a laser, the eye doctor will seal areas where leaky blood vessels are affecting the patient's central vision. This slows the leakage of fluid, reducing the amount of fluid in the retina. 


Photo credit: Close-up image of man's eye, right, courtesy of the National Eye Institute


Are you at risk for RVO?

You may never have heard of it before, but retinal vein occlusion (commonly known as RVO) is a serious eye Image of woman having an eye examdisease that you – and every Canadian – should know about. Without early detection, it can cause serious vision loss or even blindness.

Want to know if you or someone you love is at a high risk of developing RVO? Take a look at the risk factors below.

But remember, many serious eye diseases like RVO can happen to almost anyone, often with no symptoms, so it's important to visit your optometrist regularly to check for vision problems before they cause permanent damage.

Risk factors

  • High blood pressure
  • Hyperlipimedia (blood lipids)
  • Other health problems that affect blood flow (e.g., bleeding or clotting disorders)
  • Diabetes
  • Age (people 55-plus are at a higher risk)
  • Lack of exercise
  • Excess weight or obesity
  • Smoking
  • Glaucoma
  • Heavy alcohol consumption
  • Oral contraceptives

Prevention tips

Few Canadians realize that they do have power when it comes to keeping their vision health in check, and there are many steps they can take to help prevent serious eye diseases like RVO before they start. In fact, 75 per cent of vision loss in Canada can be prevented – mostly by making simple lifestyle changes – or successfully treated.

Here are a few things you can do to help reduce your risk of developing RVO:

  • Get regular eye exams
  • Eat a low-fat diet
  • Exercise regularly
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Don't smoke
  • Manage your diabetes
  • Only drink alcohol in moderation

To learn more about how you can help prevent RVO and other serious eye diseases before they start, speak to your optometrist today. If you don't have an optometrist, you can use our convenient Optometrist Locator tool to find one in your local area.


A vision for life

Retired teacher won't let RVO slow him downImage of Stephen

Stephen Andrecyk has never been one to rest on his laurels.

When not weighing in at his local seniors council meetings, the-64-year-old can often be found volunteering, spending time with friends and family, or canoeing the lakes of his native Glace Bay, Nova Scotia, fishing pole in tow. He also loves writing poetry, tending his ample vegetable garden and doing fix-it projects around the house.

He's the quintessential up-and-about, "Zoomer" retiree – a weekend warrior, seven days a week. His latest conquest? A total restoration of his backyard shed, complete with a new roof and full electrical wiring that he installed himself.

You'd never know he was doing it all with only a fraction of his vision.

Seeing beyond vision loss

Vision loss happened suddenly for the retired school teacher. One minute he was working around the house, the next he was half in the dark, he says.

"Suddenly it was like a shade came down over my left eye. I went to my eye doctor and he told me to read the chart in front of me. I said 'What chart?' I couldn't even see it."

It turned out he had retinal vein occlusion (RVO), a serious eye disease that can lead to significant vision loss or even blindness. It had stolen almost half his sight before he even knew he had it.

Today, 13 years later, Stephen has almost no sight in his left eye, and waning, blurry vision in his right. And he knows it may be only a matter of time before he loses more.

But, ever the optimist, Stephen takes his vision loss in stride.

"I may not have the vision I used to, but I have a good, strong vision for life," he says.

That's not to say that he hasn't had his struggles. He admits that reading has become a trial for him. In fact, soon after he began to lose his sight, he had to give up his position as president of the Cape Breton Council of Seniors simply because he wasn't able to read or write the group's literature anymore.

Still, he treats vision loss more like a minor inconvenience than a disability, especially after support from CNIB.

Reaching out for a helping hand

"I became aware of CNIB through the Council of Seniors," says Stephen. "When I went in I met a remarkable lady named Michelle [Fudge]. She did an assessment of my vision and helped me pick the right glasses for reading . . . and the different things I'd need to do. That helped a lot."

Michelle also introduced Stephen to Shop CNIB, CNIB's retail line of hundreds of tools and products designed to help make life easier for people who are blind or partially sighted – the proceeds from which go right back into CNIB programs and services.

There, he's found a slew of products to assist him with daily living, from specialty glasses to magnification visors, which are enabling him to read print again.

Stephen was so impressed with his experiences with CNIB that he invited Michelle to speak about the organization's programs and services before his seniors council, hoping that other seniors in his community could take advantage of CNIB's services and spread the word to their loved ones who may be affected by vision loss.

"I have nothing but good things to say about CNIB. They're a lot of help to so many people, not just provincially but nationally . . . I'm glad to share that with others who may have issues with their vision."

In fact, he always keeps CNIB's phone number with him in case he bumps into a friend who could benefit from a helping hand when it comes to sight loss – because, as Stephen puts it, "losing your vision definitely isn't the end of the road."

"Even without vision, you can do anything you want to," he says. "I say, avoid all the negativity. Get active. Don't sit and think about what you don't have, but concentrate on what you do have. Accentuate the positive."



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Become a Partner in Vision

Researchers estimate that more than one million A woman who is blind at the grocery store. Canadians are living with vision loss today, and that number is growing all the time. As a Partner in Vision, your generous donation of $10 or more a month will help people who are blind or partially sighted build the skills, confidence and independence to enjoy life again – to see beyond vision loss. Become a Partner in Vision today.



Thank you to our sponsor

This issue of "Insight" has been made possible with the support of an educational grant from Novartis Pharmaceuticals Canada Inc.




Note: The information provided in these articles is for awareness purposes only, and should not replace the expertise of an eye doctor. CNIB recommends that you visit your eye doctor regularly for thorough eye exams, up-to-date medical information and advice tailored to your own unique vision health and family history.

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