Optic neuritis describes inflammation of the optic nerves, which carry signals from the eyes to the brain. This inflammation can damage the protective coating—called myelin—that surrounds the nerve fibers along with the nerve fibers themselves, causing pain and vision loss.
Optic neuritis is typically monocular, meaning it affects one eye at a time, but it can affect both eyes sequentially or simultaneously. For some people, it may be an initial symptom of multiple sclerosis, a disease that causes inflammation and damage to nerves in the brain and spinal cord.
How common is optic neuritis?
Optic neuritis occurs at a rate of 6.4 per 100,000 people each year, making it a rare condition.
Who gets optic neuritis?
Optic neuritis usually develops between the ages of 20 and 45, and it is three times more common in women than in men. It can occur alone or be associated with other conditions, such as:
- Multiple sclerosis
- Autoimmune diseases
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Drug interactions or reactions
How is optic neuritis diagnosed?
Your doctor may use the following to diagnose optic neuritis:
- Routine eye exam to check your vision and ability to perceive colors
- Ophthalmoscopy to check for swelling of the optic disk
- Pupillary light reaction test
- MRI scan to check for areas of inflammation
Symptoms of optic neuritis may include:
- Vision loss or severely impaired vision in one eye
- Blurry or otherwise disturbed vision
- Eye pain that worsens with eye movement
- Color blindness
These symptoms usually build over the course of a few days and peak within one to two weeks.
Vision often improves on its own, but corticosteroids may help reduce inflammation and speed up recovery. They are usually given through an IV. However, corticosteroids do not appear to affect the extent to which you’ll recover the vision you’ve lost.
- Date of last review: January 24, 2017