Multiple Sclerosis, or MS as it is most commonly referred to, is a chronic illness that is based around a problem with the patient’s central nervous system. This is the complex network of nerve tissues that controls the various activities of the body. MS occurs when the patient’s immune system attacks a substance called myelin, which is the protective layer surrounding nerve fibers. When this happens, inflammation, lesions and scar tissue is developed that can make it difficult for the brain to send signals to the rest of the body. This can mean that patients find it difficult to perform the same activities as someone without MS.
MS has a wide range of effects on various areas of the body, including the eyes.
It is actually very common for people who have multiple sclerosis to experience vision problems. In fact, a vision problem is often one of the first symptoms of MS for many patients. There are a number of ways in which MS can affect our eyesight.
In order to see a clear, accurate and single picture, our eyes must work in perfect synchronization. However, patients with MS may find that their eyes do not work together quite as perfectly as they need to. This can cause them to see two pictures semi-overlaid on top of one another. This is known as double vision. Double vision may not necessarily occur in all directions or light conditions. Nevertheless, when patients experience it, they may also suffer from a range of other symptoms including nausea, vertigo and co-ordination difficulties. In some cases, they may be diagnosed with a condition called binocular vision dysfunction or BVD for short.
Optic neuritis is characterized by the inflammation of the optic nerve, which is the nerve that carries messages from the eye to the brain. Not everyone who develops MS will develop optic neuritis, and not everyone who has optic neuritis will also suffer from MS. The impact of optic neuritis on patient vision can vary from mild visual disruption in one eye to complete vision loss in both. Color vision is usually affected, with many patients noticing that colors appear more pale than usual. In some instances, optic neuritis can be painful.
Nystagmus is a condition that is characterized by uncontrolled and involuntary movement of the eyes. While it can cause the eyes to move in any direction, the effect on patient vision is usually negligible meaning that many MS sufferers who experience it don’t even realize that they are affected until the issue is detected at their routine eye exams. Certain external influences such as stress and fatigue can make the condition worsen.
Fortunately, there are some treatments that can help patients manage the symptoms associated with MS. When it comes to vision, the exact treatment you will need will depend on the type of issues you are experiencing. For example, medications such as gabapentin, baclofen, memantine, and clonazepam can be used to help counteract nystagmus although they are not effective for all patients. Meanwhile, if you have optic neuritis and/or double vision, you may need a course of steroids to help. There are also techniques used in binocular vision dysfunction that can be helpful in counteracting your symptoms.
Our eyecare team are fully knowledgeable about the way in which MS can affect your vision and have the experience needed to ensure that you get the eyecare support that you need in order to manage your condition. Please get in touch with us to schedule an appointment. We can be reached at (904) 601-1300.