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Optic neuritis: Treatment, symptoms, advice and help

About optic neuritis

Optic neuritis refers to the inflammation of the optic nerve (the nerve responsible for vision) that may impair the vision of the affected eye.

Optic neuritis: Incidence, age and sex

Optic neuritis is more commonly seen in white skinned races. Women are more prone to develop optic neuritis than men. It generally affects individuals between the ages of 18 to 45 years whereas older people and children are less likely to develop the disease.

Signs and symptoms of optic neuritis: Diagnosis

The most common symptoms of optic neuritis are pain and temporary vision loss. The typical optic neuritis pain increases with movement of the affected eye. Generally, the vision loss following optic neuritis is temporary and most of patients recover from it. However, in some cases, it may lead to permanent loss of vision. Some people may have severe difficulty in vision whereas the others may not notice any change in their seeing ability. The temporary vision problem may be aggravated by heat or exercise. In some cases, it may cause loss of colour perception. When optic neuritis is associated with a disorder called multiple sclerosis, there may be headache, weakness and numbness in the extremities.

The diagnosis of optic neuritis is made on the basis of proper eye examination by ophthalmologist (eye specialist) during which the ophthalmologist may perform specific eye tests to confirm the diagnosis. An MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) scan may be advised to confirm optic neuritis and to rule out tumour or other conditions that can lead to optic neuritis.

Causes and prevention of optic neuritis

Most commonly, there is no identifiable cause of optic neuritis and it is believed to be because of an auto-immune process in which body’s own immune cells start attacking the optic nerve. Sometimes, it occurs as a part of another auto-immune disorder called multiple sclerosis. The other causes of optic neuritis include bacterial or viral infections, drug toxicity, diabetes and vitamin B12 deficiency.

In cases of optic neuritis caused by infection, the underlying infection needs to be treated to prevent further episodes. In patients suffering from known autoimmune disorder, treatment of underlying disorder is required to prevent the development of optic neuritis.

Optic neuritis: Complications

Generally, most of the patients regain normal vision post-optic neuritis episode within a short period of time. However, there is higher probability of recurrent attacks of optic neuritis in patients with multiple sclerosis and that may lead to permanent vision loss. Some patients may develop permanent optic nerve damage without any symptoms or may have showed decreased visual acuity following optic neuritis. In addition to the vision problems, there may be side-effects of the steroid medication used to treat autoimmune disorders.

Optic neuritis: Treatment

Generally, optic neuritis does not require significant drug treatment and resolves within a few weeks. Patients having an underlying infection require appropriate treatment. Steroids may be given to accelerate the recovery of vision. Other immunosuppressive medications are also used to reduce recurrent episodes of optic neuritis.