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

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.

Last Reviewed:
October 07, 2016
Last Updated:
August 11, 2017