Optic Neuritis

1 What is Optic Neuritis?

With optic neuritis, the nerve fibers are inflamed and may cause pain and even temporary loss of vision. 

Optic nerve is the group of nerve fibers, which are responsible in transmitting visual information to the brain from the eye.

The condition is linked to multiple sclerosis, and the symptoms of optic neuritis are sometimes indicative of multiple sclerosis. 

2 Symptoms

The symptoms of optic neuritis include:

  • Pain. Pain in the eye can be experienced with eye movement. At times, you may feel a dull pain behind the affected eye.
  • Loss of vision. Temporary reduction or loss of vision is sometimes experienced. The loss of vision can be triggered or exaggerated by doing exercises or taking a hot shower or bath.
  • Color vision loss. This eye condition usually affects your perception of color. The affected eye may see less vivid colors than the usual.
  • Flashing lights. Flickering or flashing lights are common to people with optic neuritis.
  • While most eye conditions start with mild symptoms, some can develop into a more serious condition when left untreated. Thus, it is important to see a doctor immediately if you are experiencing any problem with your eye. In the case of optic neuritis, if your symptoms become worse, or experience other signs such as weakening of the limbs, a thorough checkup is vital since these may indicate as neurological disorder.

In optic neuritis, only one eye is usually affected.

3 Causes

At present, experts are still not sure on what the exact cause of optic neuritis is. Nevertheless, they believe that it is a result of the occurrence, in which the immune system targets the myelin or optic nerve, thus, resulting to damage.

The myelin’s job is to promote fast travel of electrical impulses from the eye to the brain. This is how we convert visual data. When optic neuritis occurs, the process is disrupted, which can greatly affect the vision.

A few autoimmune disorders are often associated with this eye condition, including:

Other factors that are believed to cause optic neuritis are:

  • Infections: Infections such as Lyme disease, syphilis, cat-scratch fever; as well as viral diseases like mumps, measles, and herpes can result in optic neuritis.
  • Drugs: Certain drugs, such as Myambutol, are associated with optic neuritis manifestation.

4 Making a Diagnosis

If you have the symptoms of optic neuritis, visit your doctor as soon as possible, he will then refer you to an ophthalmologists or eye specialist to receive a diagnosis. In order to make the most out of your doctor’s visit, it will be useful to write down all the important information related to your case. Your key personal information, medical history, the symptoms you have and for how long you've been experiencing them are information that may help with the diagnosis. It would be ideal if you describe each symptom by indicating the colors you see differently or the severity of the vision loss.

The eye specialist will have to base the diagnosis on your symptoms, medical history and a number of tests. These tests typically include:

Basic eye exam. To check your vision and color perception, a basic eye exam is conducted.
Ophthalmoscopy. This test evaluates the health of the optic disk. If the optic disk is swollen, there’s a possibility of optic neuritis.

Pupillary light reaction test. With this test, the doctor observes how the pupils respond to bright light. With optic neuritis, pupils don’t constrict as much as in the healthy eyes when exposed to bright light. Other tests that may help diagnose the condition include visual evoked response, MRI scan, and blood tests.

5 Treatment

Generally, the eye affected with optic neuritis gets better on its own, without any treatment needed. In some cases, however, the inflammation of optic nerves is treated with steroid medications.

Usually, steroid treatment is given intravenously or by vein. The treatment may help speed up recovery and may also help minimize the risk of possible development of multiple sclerosis.

Steroid treatment, however, has its side effects. The side effects may include:

  • mood swings,
  • weight gain,
  • insomnia,
  • upset stomach.

Since optic neuritis could be an initial symptom of multiple sclerosis, your doctor may also suggest receiving other medications to minimize your risk of having multiple sclerosis. Various drugs, including interferon beta-1a and beta-1b can be used to prevent the disorder from occurring or delay its symptoms.

6 Risks and Complications

There are several risks and complications associated with optic neuritis.

The following are risk factors that heighten your chance of developing optic neuritis from autoimmune disorders:

  • Age. Adults aged between 20 and 40 years are more at risk of having the disorder.
  • Sex. Women have a higher chance of developing optic neuritis than men.
  • Race. In the US, whites are mostly affected by the disorder compared to blacks.
  • Genetic mutations. Genetic mutations may increase the risk of optic neuritis and multiple sclerosis

Complications that may come with optic neuritis are optic nerve damage, decreased visual perception, and partial loss of color discrimination.

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