Optic neuritis, also sometimes referred to as ON, is an eye condition that occurs when swelling and inflammation causes damage to the optic nerve – something which has a devastating impact on our vision. This is because the optic nerve is the bundle of nerves that is responsible for sending visual information from our eyes to our brain. In addition to compromising our vision, optic neuritis can also cause a range of other unpleasant symptoms.
Although optic neuritis is a condition in its own right, it is most commonly associated with patients who have another condition called multiple sclerosis (MS). In fact, for many people with MS it is the symptoms of optic neuritis that they notice first. Similarly, optic neuritis can be detected at routine eye exams and used to identify the development of MS. Multiple sclerosis is a disease that causes inflammation and damage to the nerves in the body, including the brain and the optic nerve.
Despite optic neuritis is very common in patients with MS, it can also occur as a result of a number of other conditions, including disorders affecting the immune system, such as Lupus and infections. In some cases, certain medications can also cause ON. Our eye doctors will work with you to determine the underlying cause of your optic neuritis to ensure that you get the right treatment.
There is a range of different symptoms that can be indicative of optic neuritis. In most instances, patients will only experience the symptoms in one eye. These could include:
- Pain or discomfort, which may be made worse when you look around.
- Loss of color vision. Colors may appear faded or pale.
- Loss of vision in one eye. The extent of this and how long it lasts can vary.
- Flashing or flickering in your field of vision.
- Peripheral vision loss.
Every patient is different and so while these are the symptoms most commonly associated with ON, exactly what you will experience can vary.
If you are experiencing any of the symptoms listed above, our team will perform specific assessments to check your eyes to confirm if you are affected by ON. These could include any of the following:
Routine eye exam. This will be used to assess your central and peripheral vision, and to determine how well you can see colors.
Ophthalmoscopy. This test involves a bright light being shone into your eyes so that your eye doctor can examine the structures at the back of the eye for any abnormalities, including inflammation/swelling.
Light reaction test. As its name suggests, this test is used to see how your eyes react to bright light. In patients with optic neuritis, the pupils don’t constrict as much when they come into contact with bright light as they do in a person with healthy eyes.
Visual field test. This test is used to examine your peripheral vision to see if it is adversely affected.
OCT. OCT – or Optical Coherence Tomography – is a test that measures the thickness of the eye’s retinal nerve fiber layer. This is valuable because, in patients with ON, this layer is often thinner than normal.
If your eye doctor has reason to believe that you may be affected by optical neuritis, you may also be given a blood test or MRI to confirm the diagnosis, particularly if they feel that MS may be the underlying cause for the condition.
Most cases of optical neuritis are only temporary, and the majority of patients go on to regain their vision and fully recover from the condition, sometimes without any medical treatment at all. However, to help speed up the process, you may be given high-dose steroids through an IV. These will work to reduce the inflammation which will take the pressure off of the optic nerve, helping to restore your vision and reduce your symptoms.
For more information about optical neuritis, or to schedule an appointment to discuss your vision, please get in touch by calling us today.