Optic Neuritis

What is Optic Neuritis?

Optic Neuritis is the term used when there is inflammation in the optic nerve, which is the bunch of nerve fibers tasked with transmitting visual information to the brain. A rare condition, it is most commonly associated with multiple sclerosis in that it can possibly be an early indication of the disorder. It is also often related to neuromyelitis optica, which is a condition similar to MS in that it causes an inflammation of the spinal cord and optic nerve.

It is not yet known what causes optic neuritis. However, some experts believe it develops when a person’s immune system accidentally targets the myelin, or the protective substance that covers the optic nerve. The myelin normally aids in the transmission of electrical impulses to the brain to convert them into visual information. Optic neuritis creates a disruption of this process and as a result affects the patient’s vision. It is possible that various bacterial and viral infections as well as the use of certain medications may also contribute to the condition.

What are the Symptoms of Optic Neuritis?

Patients with optic neuritis report eye pain and a temporary loss of vision as the most common symptoms. Other indications may include:

  • Headache
  • Blurred vision
  • Color blindness
  • Partial vision loss
  • Flickering or flashing lights in vision

Optic Neuritis Causes

Scientists are yet to find the exact causes of the condition. However, it is believed that one develops it after the immune system targets the myelin by mistake. This myelin covers the optic nerve and aids transportation of electric impulses from the eyes to the brain. Since optic neuritis interferes with this process, here are the associated conditions and risk factors of optic neuritis.

  • Multiple sclerosis. This disease affects the myelin sheath which protects the nerve fibers both in the spinal cord and brain.
  • Neuromyelitis optica. A recurring inflammation in the optic nerve and spinal cord can trigger the occurrence of optic neuritis. However, it doesn’t cause as much damage as multiple sclerosis.
  • Drugs. Some drugs have been linked to the condition, including some antibiotics and quinine.
  • Infections. Viruses such as measles and mumps, as well as bacterial infections like Lyme disease and syphilis, can cause optic neuritis.
  • Other illnesses like lupus and sarcoidosis can also trigger recurrent optic neuritis.

How is Optic Neuritis Treated?

In the majority of cases, optic neuritis will improve on its own without medical intervention and normal vision will return within a few months. Some cases may require the use of steroids to help reduce the inflammation affecting the optic nerve. These medications are generally given through an IV. If steroid therapy does not produce results and the patient continues to experience vision loss, they could benefit from a process called plasma exchange therapy. However, this procedure has not been proven to be an effective form of treatment for optic neuritis.

Optic Neuritis Prevention

No clear way exists that can prevent the first episode of the condition. Prevention of optic neuritis may be easy if one does not have a history of ailments that are associated with it, such as multiple sclerosis and neuromyelitis optica. Below are some risk management measures of optic neuritis.

  • Visit an ophthalmologist regularly who can help in detecting the problem early and commence treatment before it worsens.
  • Protecting the eyes against strain can reduce cases of injury and occurrences of optic neuritis.
  • Chances of a recurring optic neuritis condition may be prevented if it is treated with a steroid or appropriate medication.
  • People with a previous history of optic neuritis need to take an adequate supply of vitamin D in their diet.
  • Similarly, people with a history of optic neuritis need to quit smoking and receive influenza vaccines in the prone seasons since they can lead to multiple sclerosis, which is a risk factor of optic neuritis.