What is optic neuritis?

Optic neuritis: Overview

Optic neuritis is a problem in the eye's optic nerve. This is the nerve that moves light and images from the eye to the brain. Optic neuritis causes the nerve to swell. You may have blurred or double vision or even loss of vision.

Your doctor may not know what caused the problem with your eye. In some cases, a virus infects the nerve. Sometimes the body's defenses (immune system) mistakenly attack the body's own cells, such as the nerves. Many people with multiple sclerosis (MS), which is an immune system disease, have optic neuritis at some time. It can be the first symptom of MS.

Your doctor may want to watch your symptoms or may give you medicine, which can reduce the swelling of your optic nerve. In either case, the doctor will carefully keep track of your condition.

Optic neuritis

Optic neuritis is inflammation of the optic nerve, which lies at the back of the eye and carries visual information from the eye to the brain. Optic neuritis may cause partial or total loss of vision, usually in one eye, and is often associated with pain when the eye moves.

When optic neuritis causes partial vision loss, effects may include:

  • Loss of vision in the center of the visual field (central scotoma).
  • Changes in color perception, with bright colors appearing dull.

Symptoms of optic neuritis usually develop over a period of a few days to a week and stabilize for several weeks or months. In many cases vision then improves on its own. Sometimes a doctor will use medicine to help relieve the inflammation.

Optic neuritis can be linked with other neurological and inflammatory conditions, such as multiple sclerosis.

What are the symptoms of optic neuritis?

Optic neuritis may cause partial or total loss of vision, usually in one eye. You may have pain when you move your eye.

When vision loss is partial, you may have:

  • Loss of vision in the center of the visual field (central scotoma).
  • Changes in how you see color. Bright colors may look dull.

Symptoms usually get worse over a period of a few hours or a few days. Then they may not change for several weeks or months.

How is optic neuritis treated?

Because optic neuritis often improves on its own, your doctor may just want to wait and watch your symptoms. Or you may get medicine to reduce the swelling of your optic nerve. If you have a condition like multiple sclerosis, your doctor may suggest treatment for that. In any case, your doctor will carefully keep track of your condition.

How is optic neuritis diagnosed?

Your doctor can find out if you have optic neuritis by doing a physical exam, including an eye exam. The doctor will also ask questions about your symptoms and past health. The doctor may use eyedrops to dilate your eyes during the exam.

Imaging tests such as an MRI may help the doctor see the optic nerve and the brain. This can help the doctor find the cause of the condition.

How can you care for optic neuritis?

  • Take your medicines exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor if you think you are having a problem with your medicine.
  • Follow any directions your doctor gives you to care for your eye.
  • Avoid bright lights or use dark glasses to protect the eye.
  • Over-the-counter eyedrops, such as artificial tears, may help the eye feel better. Choose a product that does not contain preservatives.

What causes optic neuritis?

Your doctor may not know what caused this problem with your eye. In some cases, a virus infects the optic nerve. Sometimes the body's defenses (immune system) mistakenly attack the body's own cells, such as the nerves.

Many people with multiple sclerosis (MS), an immune system disease, have optic neuritis at some point. It can be the first symptom of MS.

What is optic neuritis?

Optic neuritis is inflammation of the optic nerve, which lies at the back of the eye. This nerve carries visual information from the eye to the brain. If it's inflamed, you may have blurred or double vision or even loss of vision.

Optic neuritis: When to call

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have sudden loss of vision.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • Your vision gets worse.
  • You have pain in your eye.
  • You do not get better as expected.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.