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What is the Retinal Artery?

By C.B. Fox
Updated May 17, 2024
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The retinal artery, often referred to as the central retinal artery, is the main source of blood for the interior of the retina. It travels into the eye from the back, along the same path as the ocular nerve and the retinal vein. Nutrients and oxygen are carried to the retina through this blood vessel.

The retina receives blood through two different routes. The choroidal blood vessels, which carry between 65% and 85% of the overall blood flow to the eye, supply the outer section of the retina with blood. The blood supply in the inner section of the retina is replenished through the central retinal artery. Blood then leaves this inner section of the retina through the central retinal vein.

The largest blood vessel entering the retina, the retinal artery travels into the eye along the same corridor as the optical nerve. The four branches of the artery disperse blood throughout the inner retina, eventually branching out further into smaller vessels and capillaries. The capillaries are divided into three layers.

The retina is a very important part of eye anatomy. Located at the back of the eye, images that enter through the pupil are projected onto this surface, which is extremely photosensitive. Both rods, which are sensitive to light, and cones, which are sensitive to color, are located within the retina. Information gathered by these sensors travels along the optic nerve to the brain, where the information is processed and sensed as vision.

In order to remain healthy, the retina requires certain nutrients, which are delivered to it through the retinal artery. Deficiencies in vitamin A have been linked to decreasing retinal function because both the rods and the cones require this vitamin. One common source of vitamin A is the orange pigment in carrots known as beta-carotene. The myth that carrots are good for a person’s vision, as it turns out, is not a myth at all, and increasing consumption of this vegetable can increase retinal activity.

Disruptions along the retinal artery, such as clots or tears, can cause serious and permanent damage to the retina. Emergency surgery is performed when possible in order to preserve vision when these disruptions occur. Retinal artery occlusion, which is a relatively rare disorder of the retinal artery, is one such condition that requires prompt medical attention. Chances of retaining vision after diagnosis with this disease are between 21% and 35%.

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