Eye Nerve Inflammation (Optic Neuritis)

What is optic neuritis?

Optic neuritis is swelling of your optic nerve, which is located behind your eye and sends pictures to the brain.

What is the cause?

The exact cause of optic neuritis is not known. Optic neuritis is often a symptom of multiple sclerosis (MS). MS is a condition that may be caused by your body attacking and destroying the outer coating of your nerves, called myelin. This leads to swelling and problems with the way the nerves works.

Other possible causes of optic neuritis include:

  • Other immune system problems, such as lupus and sarcoidosis
  • Infections such as chickenpox, herpes, cat-scratch disease, Lyme disease, syphilis, and meningitis
  • Inflammation of blood vessels
  • Radiation treatment for other medical problems

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms may include:

  • Vision loss in one eye, which may worsen over several days
  • Eye pain that gets worse when you move your eye
  • Colors look washed out or light looks dimmer in one eye
  • Blind spots or blurry vision

Symptoms may be worse during exercise or a hot shower.

If the problem is being caused by MS, you may have other symptoms, including weakness, numbness, or tingling.

How is it diagnosed?

Your eye care provider will ask about your symptoms and medical history and do exams and tests such as:

  • An exam using a microscope with a light attached, called a slit lamp, to look closely at the front and back of your eye
  • An exam using drops to enlarge, or dilate, your pupils and a light to look into the back of your eyes
  • A visual field test, which uses spots of light to measure your central vision and how well you see things on all sides
  • MRI, which uses a strong magnetic field and radio waves to show detailed pictures of your optic nerve and your brain

Your healthcare provider may do other tests and exams to diagnose health problems that may be the cause of your symptoms.

How is it treated?

If the optic neuritis is caused by an infection, your provider will treat the infection. You may be given steroid medicine to reduce inflammation and help speed up the recovery of your vision.

In many cases, your vision will recover and be close to normal in time. If you have severe optic neuritis or if it comes back, you may have permanent loss of vision and have trouble seeing colors.

How can I take care of myself?

Follow the full course of treatment your healthcare provider prescribes. Ask your healthcare provider:

  • How and when you will hear your test results
  • How long it will take to recover
  • If there are activities you should avoid and when you can return to your normal activities
  • How to take care of yourself at home
  • What symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if you have them

Make sure you know when you should come back for a checkup. Keep all appointments for provider visits or tests.

Reviewed for medical accuracy by faculty at the Wilmer Eye Institute at Johns Hopkins. Web site: http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/wilmer/
Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-10-27
Last reviewed: 2014-10-27
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.

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