Optic neuritis tends to affect one eye, but there are cases when it affects both. The main symptom of optic neuritis is a sudden decrease in vision.
Optic neuritis tends to start with some pain in or around your eye, especially when you move your eye. This is followed by blurred vision which then tends to get worse.
You may find that you have a ‘blind-spot’ in your vision. You can also experience problems with your whole field of vision and colours may appear less vivid.² In extreme cases, optic neuritis can lead to total vision loss in the affected eye.
The exact cause of optic neuritis is not known. Some experts believe it can develop because the immune system mistakes the covering of the optic nerve for something else. Some types of optic neuritis can also be caused by a viral infection.³
Optic neuritis tends to affect people between the ages of 20-50,⁴ with the average age of people with the condition between 30 and 35.⁵ Women are also three times more likely to get it.⁶
There is a strong link between optic neutrinos and multiple sclerosis (MS). MS is a progressive neurological disease. About 50% of people who have MS will also experience optic neuritis. An episode of optic neuritis may also be the first
sign of MS.⁷
It’s important to see your optometrist or your doctor if you have optic neuritis, so they can check for any other underlying health conditions.
It can be difficult to diagnose optic neuritis as
the inflammation is likely to be behind the eye,
so the inside and the outside of the eye may appear normal.
Your doctor will perform a combination of tests to diagnose optic neuritis.
These may include:
- A general check of your vision and peripheral vision, and for any changes in colour perception or colour blindness.
- A check to see the responsiveness of your eyes to light. This involves your doctor shining a light to see if your pupils react less to light compared to normal, healthy pupils.
- A check of the back of your eye. Your doctor will shine a bright light into your eye to see if there’s any visible swelling at the back of your eye.
- An MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) to check for any damaged parts of your brain which may point to a high risk of MS. It can also be used to rule out other issues such as a tumour.
- Blood tests to check for signs of any underlying infections.
Your doctor will decide on the treatment depending on the underlying cause and the severity of the condition.
Treatment options include:
- No treatment: For some people, optic neuritis may go away on its own after a few weeks. This is more likely if there’s no other health issue causing the condition.
- Steroids: If you have severe vision problems, optic neuritis in both eyes or poor vision in the unaffected eye, you may be prescribed a course of steroids to speed up the recovery process.⁸ ⁹
- Treatment for an underlying health condition: You may also need treatment for another health condition if it’s considered the source of your optic neuritis.
Most people will see improvement in their vision over time. The speed of recovery varies from person to person, but pain tends to go away after a few days. Your vision should improve within two to three weeks peaking after about six months.¹⁰ It’s also possible that even if your vision recovers, there may be some small changes in colour brightness or depth perception. Some people who have experienced severe vision loss, may never get their full vision back.
If you have any concerns about an swollen optic nerve or optic neuritis visit us for a check up. The cost of your eye test will depend on the country you live in and various other factors. In the U.K., it’s provided for free by the NHS if you’re under 16 or over 65, or if you’re receiving government benefits, or if you have certain medical conditions.
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