When you suffer from optic neuritis, the nerve that sends messages from your eye to the brain is inflamed. This nerve is called the optic nerve. Optic neuritis is one of the most common symptoms that people suffering from MS experience. It can also appear in people suffering from Neuromyelitis Optica (NMO), diabetes, or when you take certain medications. Neuromyelitis Optica (NMO), also known as Devic’s disease, is an autoimmune disorder in which immune system cells and antibodies primarily attack the optic nerves and the spinal cord, but may also attack the brain.
Optic neuritis is a condition that affects one eye. The patient might experience the following symptoms:
- Pain. When you try to move your eye, you will feel a pain in your eye. Sometimes the pain feels like a dull ache behind the eye.
- Vision loss in one eye. This is a temporary condition that affects most of the people. Noticeable vision loss usually develops over hours or days and improves over several weeks to months. Vision loss is permanent in some cases.
- Visual field loss. Side vision loss can occur in any pattern.
- Loss of color vision. When you suffer from optic neuritis you might notice that the colors appear less vivid than normal.
- Flashing lights. Some people with optic neuritis report seeing flashing or flickering lights with eye movements.
Eye conditions can be serious and should be treated with priority. If left untreated, some of these conditions can lead to permanent vision loss. Therefore, you should contact your doctor immediately in case:
- You develop new symptoms, such as eye pain or a change in your vision.
- Your symptoms worsen or don’t improve with treatment.
- You have unusual symptoms, including numbness or weakness in one or more limbs, which can indicate a neurological disorder.
The healthcare professionals still did not identify a clear cause of the optic neuritis appearance. It’s believed to develop when the immune system mistakenly targets the substance covering your optic nerve (myelin), resulting in inflammation and damage to the myelin. The main role of myelin is to help electrical impulses travel quickly from the eye to the brain, where they’re converted into visual information. Optic neuritis disrupts this process, affecting vision.
There are several autoimmune conditions that have been associated so far with this condition:
- Multiple sclerosis. The autoimmune system attacks the myelin sheath covering nerve fibers in your brain and spinal cord. In people with optic neuritis, the risk of developing multiple sclerosis following one episode of optic neuritis is about 50 percent over a lifetime.
- Neuromyelitis optica. In this condition, inflammation recurs in the optic nerve and spinal cord. Neuromyelitis optica has similarities to multiple sclerosis, but neuromyelitis optica doesn’t cause damage to the nerves in the brain as often as multiple sclerosis does.
The factors below have been discovered to be also responsible for the development of optic neuritis:
- Infections. Bacterial infections, including Lyme disease, cat-scratch fever and syphilis, or viruses, such as measles, mumps and herpes, can cause optic neuritis.
- Other diseases. Diseases such as sarcoidosis and lupus can cause recurrent optic neuritis.
- Drugs. Some drugs have been associated with the development of optic neuritis. They include quinine and some antibiotics.
There are several risk factors which are considered to be responsible for optic neuritis:
- Age. Optic neuritis most often affects adults ages 20 to 40.
- Sex. Women are much more likely to develop optic neuritis than men are.
- Race. In the United States, optic neuritis occurs more frequently in whites than it does in blacks.
- Genetic mutations. Certain genetic mutations might increase your risk of developing optic neuritis or multiple sclerosis.
- Optic nerve damage. Most people have some permanent optic nerve damage after an episode of optic neuritis.
- Decreased visual acuity. Even though it may happen that most people regain their normal vision in a couple of months, there are also cases when the partial loss of color discrimination still persists.
- Side effects of treatment. In order to treat this condition, the doctors recommend steroid medications. They can subdue the immune system which means that you will be more susceptible to infections.
What’s the Treatment?
The good news about optic neuritis is that it goes away without a specific treatment. Doctors recommend high-dose steroid drugs through an IV in order to treat this condition faster. This treatment may also lower your risk of other MS problems or delay its start.
In some special cases, the doctor may suggest other treatments, such as:
- IVIG. This is a medication made from blood. It may be an option if you have severe symptoms and can’t use steroids or they haven’t helped you.
- Vitamin B12 shots. It’s rare, but optic neuritis can happen when the body has too little of this nutrient. In these cases, doctors can prescribe extra vitamin B12.