Temporal Arteritis robbed my 87 year old father of all the vision in his right eye, and all of his peripheral vision in his left eye. One week he was having episodes of double vision and the next week, his right eye was blind. Since temporal arteritis is not a common ailment, it poses a real risk to those who aren’t aware of it’s emergency nature.
What Is Temporal Arteritis?
According to The Cleveland Clinic website, “Temporal arteritis is one of the most common vascular disorders, but is a relatively rare condition, affecting about 5 out of 10,000 people. It usually occurs in people who are over 50 years old, and affects women more often than men.”
The inner lining of the blood vessels that supply blood to the scalp and eyes, become inflamed or swollen. As they swell, less blood can flow through them. This blocks the flow of blood to the scalp, jaws, and eyes. With decreased blood flow, tissues become deprived of oxygen and nutrients, and waste products build up to damaging levels. Without enough oxygen to the retina the tissue dies.
Experts don’t know what causes it, but it is believed to be an autoimmune disease. An autoimmune disease is one where the body starts to attack itself.
Symptoms of Temporal Arteritis
The swollen, inflamed blood vessels cause “a throbbing, continuous headache on one or both sides of the forehead.” It’s often accompanied with jaw pain that gets worse with chewing or talking.
Visual changes include episodes of double vision, blurry vision or brief vision loss. If not treated promptly with high dose steroids, vision can be permanently lost in one or both eyes. One can also have a tender scalp and temples. Some patients experience fever with this condition.
My father also had a burning sensation on his tongue and pain behind his right ear. He didn’t have a fever.
Treatment of Temporal Arteritis
If you or a loved one are experiencing any of these vision problems along with any of the other symptoms, you need to go to the emergency room. If treated promptly with high dose steroids, the chance of permanent vision loss decreases drastically. This also prevents serious events like strokes or mini-strokes, or ballooning of blood vessels (aneurysms) which can rupture.
These symptoms may not seem like an emergency, but if your vision is unexpectedly, and rapidly decreasing, it means that the back of your eyes are not receiving oxygen, and are dying. Once the retina dies there is no coming back.
According to The Cleveland Clinic, “Temporal arteritis should be treated as soon as possible to prevent further damage caused by poor blood flow. Patients over the age of 50 who have the following symptoms should contact a doctor immediately:
- New onset headache
- Sudden and brief loss of vision
- Jaw pain with or after chewing food or after talking.”
Since there appears to be a connection with the arthritis condition called polymyalgia rheumatica, this is another reason to get immediate medical treatment if you have or have had this disease. “Up to 30 percent of patients” with arteritis have or had polymyalgia rheumatica. My father had an episode of this ailment about 8 years before the temporal arteritis.
The other thing of note about all of this was that my father had a knee replaced two and a half months before the arteritis happened. This was very stressful both mentally and physically on him. So if you or your loved one is experiencing these seemingly unrelated symptoms, and has gone through a very stressful event, be aware of sudden vision changes.
I can never be sure if my dad had gone to the hospital first, that he would still have all of his vision. However, I believe that the several days of delay between his seeing his eye doctor, and his regular doctor contributed to his vision loss.
Part of the delay was on my parents’ end through no one’s fault. My mother had just gotten a new phone. My dad saw his opthomologist first who had him get labwork done immediately. The eye doctor contacted my Dad’s regular doctor with the very elevated inflammation marker results. Dad’s doctor left a message on my mom’s phone for him to call back ASAP.
Due to service issues she was unable to get the voice mail set up. We never saw the message until after my dad got home from the hospital.
The eye doctor appointment was on a Friday. My dad saw his family doctor on the following Monday after they called him. He was told to use oral prednisone tablets; which he started immediately. The day after he started them, he lost all vision in his right eye.
Perhaps if his family doctor had sent him to the hospital right away for intravenous prednisone, he might have saved some of his vision. It is what it is. I don’t blame anyone. I only want to make others aware of this dreadful disease.
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Till next time, Kathy