MS and vision problems

As many as 80% of people with MS will experience vision problems. For many, vision issues are the first symptom of MS. While MS-related vision problems can cause some degree of vision loss, this is often temporary. Total blindness caused by MS is rare.

The most common MS-related vision problems are optic neuritis and problems with eye movement (nystagmus and diplopia).

Optic neuritis (inflammation of the optic nerve) occurs when MS damages the optic nerve. This can lead to eye pain, blurred vision, dark spots, "graying" of vision, or temporary loss of vision (usually in one eye). Symptoms usually get worse over the first few days to 2 weeks and then gradually get better. Most recovery happens within 5 weeks, although some improvement may continue up to a year. Vision usually returns within 4-12 weeks.

Problems with eye movement occur when MS damages the parts of your brain that control the movements of your eyes and your visual coordination. The most common problems are nystagmus and diplopia. Nystagmus refers to uncontrolled eye movements that may result in dizziness, poor vision, and nausea. Diplopia means "double vision." If treated, diplopia usually goes away in a few days or weeks. Nystagmus can be more difficult to treat.

The good news is that these vision problems can be managed, and many people make a full recovery. However, some people with optic neuritis may have lingering problems with colour vision, depth perception, and contrast sensitivity (the ability to see things that don't stand out clearly from the background).

To find out more about MS-related vision problems and how they are managed, see "More about optic neuritis" and "More about problems with eye movement." To learn more about how you can handle vision changes, see "Coping with vision problems."

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