More about optic neuritis

Optic neuritis (inflammation of the optic nerve) occurs when MS damages the optic nerve. This nerve is responsible for sending light and images from the eye to the brain. As a result, optic neuritis can cause vision loss and other vision changes. For many people, it is one of the first symptoms of MS. Optic neuritis can also occur during an MS relapse, during illnesses such as influenza, or after exposure to heat.

Optic neuritis comes on suddenly and usually affects only one eye. Symptoms may include:

  • blurred vision
  • "dimming" or "grayness" of vision
  • loss of vision (especially in the center of your field of vision)
  • eye pain
  • problems with colour vision
  • trouble seeing in dim light

Symptoms usually get worse over the next several days to 2 weeks. Then, in most cases, they start to improve on their own, with most improvement taking place within the first 5 weeks. Vision usually comes back within 4 to 12 weeks. Some people may take up to a year to fully recover. Some people with optic neuritis do not have any symptoms.

To diagnose optic neuritis, your doctor will do an eye examination and ask about your medical history. The doctor may also do tests such as an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) to get a detailed picture of the brain and VEP (visual evoked potentials) to see how your visual system responds to stimulation.

The usual treatment for optic neuritis is corticosteroids. These medications are given by injection for the first 3 to 7 days, then by mouth for another 2 to 4 weeks. Most people make a full recovery, although some may notice long-term changes in colour vision, depth perception, or contrast sensitivity (seeing objects that don't stand out against the background).

If you think you may have optic neuritis, or you notice changes in your vision, see your doctor right away.

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