What Is a Fluorescein Angiography?

Medically Reviewed by Whitney Seltman, OD on February 13, 2024
3 min read

Fluorescein angiography is a type of eye test used to diagnose retinal conditions. It can also be used as an early way to gauge whether someone might have complications with future treatments of eye conditions.

This is a quick and safe test that an eye surgeon called an ophthalmologist can do. They use a special dye and imaging to check the health of your eyes’ blood vessels. You won’t need to get X-rays or radiation.

Your doctor will inject a contrast fluorescein dye into a vein in your arm. The dye quickly circulates through your bloodstream and will appear in your eyes’ blood vessels after several seconds.

Your doctor will take special pictures of your eyes while the dye is in the lining of the back of your eyes called the retinas. The dye causes your blood vessels to appear clearly in the images. This reveals any unusual signs in your blood vessels and retinas.

Your doctor will give you instructions on how to prepare for a fluorescein angiography. Here’s a more detailed idea of what to expect during the procedure:

  • The doctor will give you eye drops to dilate (enlarge) your pupils to get a wider image of your eyes’ interior.
  • You’ll sit in front of a special camera, place your head on a chin rest, and look at the camera.
  • A technician will get images of each of your eyes.
  • Your doctor will inject fluorescein dye into your arm. You may feel warmth in your arm or upper body and mild nausea. If you have itchy skin or trouble breathing, you may be having an allergic reaction. Tell your doctor immediately.
  • They will take more pictures of your eyes for about 15 more minutes while the dye circulates. The test ends once enough pictures are taken.

The entire fluorescein angiography takes about 20 minutes, including prep time. You’ll likely feel the effects of the test wearing off for several hours afterward. Your care team may also ask you to wait around a bit to discuss your test results.

You’ll need a ride home after the test. Your vision will be blurry and your eyes will be sensitive to light for up to 12 hours. You may need to wear sunglasses and avoid screens to prevent eye strain.

Fluorescein angiography looks at the blood flow to your retina and the rest of your eye. Your eye doctor may recommend it for reasons like:

  • To diagnose, confirm, or rule out a retinal disease, including eye melanoma (cancer)
  • To figure out if an eye treatment is working
  • To determine if there will be complications from an eye treatment

Fluorescein angiography can be used to diagnose conditions like:

Macular edema. This is when the macula (an area of the retina) has fluid build-up. This causes the macula to swell and distort your vision.

Diabetic retinopathy. This condition causes vision loss or blindness due to diabetes. Managing diabetes will typically prevent this condition from developing.

Age-related macular degeneration. Your macula may become thin and weak as you get older. This causes vision impairment. It’s a common condition in older adults that leads to vision loss.

Macular pucker. This can blur and distort vision. It happens when scar tissue forms on the macula. You may hear your doctor call it one of these names:

  • Epiretinal membrane
  • Preretinal membrane
  • Cellophane maculopathy
  • Retina wrinkle
  • Surface wrinkling retinopathy
  • Premacular fibrosis
  • Internal limiting membrane disease

Before you decide to get the procedure, tell your doctor if you:

  • Are or may be pregnant
  • Are breastfeeding
  • Take any prescription or over-the-counter medications
  • Use illegal drugs
  • Use herbs, vitamins, or supplements
  • Have a history of allergic reactions, specifically to X-ray dyes or medications
  • Have kidney problems

There is a slight risk of infection. You may also have bleeding and bruising where your doctor injected the dye.

Other side effects include:

  • Your vision may appear dark or tinted for a few minutes after the procedure.
  • Your skin may have a yellow tint. This will gradually fade.
  • Your pee may be darker than normal for 24 hours after the procedure. This is because your kidneys are filtering the fluorescein dye out of your blood.

There is a small risk of an allergic reaction to the fluorescein dye. Some symptoms of an allergic reaction are:

  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Dry mouth (or more salivation)
  • Rash or hives
  • Faster heart rate
  • Metallic taste in your mouth
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Sneezing

Tell your doctor right away if you have any of these.