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The optic nerve carries visual information from your eye to your brain. Optic neuritis (ON) is when your optic nerve becomes inflamed.
ON can flare up suddenly from an infection or nerve disease. The inflammation usually causes temporary vision loss that typically happens in only one eye. Those with ON sometimes experience pain. As you recover and the inflammation goes away, your vision will likely return.
Other conditions result in symptoms that resemble those of ON. Doctors may use optical coherence tomography (OCT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to help reach the correct diagnosis.
ON doesn’t always require treatment and can heal on its own. Medications, such as corticosteroids, can help speed recovery. Most who experience ON have complete (or nearly complete) vision recovery within two to three months, but it may take up to 12 months to achieve the vision recovery.
You’re more likely to develop ON if:
The cause of ON isn’t well understood. Most cases are idiopathic, which means they have no identifiable cause. The most common known cause is MS. In fact, ON is often the first symptom of MS. ON can also be due to infection or an inflammatory immune system response.
Nerve diseases that can cause ON include:
Infections that may cause ON include:
Other causes of ON include:
The three most common symptoms of ON are:
Other symptoms can include:
A physical exam, symptoms, and medical history form the basis of a diagnosis of ON. To ensure correct treatment, your doctor may perform additional tests to determine the cause of your ON.
Types of illness that can cause optic neuritis include:
ON is as inflammation of the optic nerve. Conditions with symptoms resembling ON that aren’t inflammatory include:
Because of the close relationship between ON and MS, your doctor may want to perform the following tests:
Most cases of ON recover without treatment. If your ON is the result of another condition, treating that condition will often resolve the ON.
Treatment for ON includes:
Use of corticosteroids such as IVMP may have adverse effects. Rare side effects of IVMP include severe depression and pancreatitis.
Common side effects of steroid treatment include:
Most people with ON will have partial to complete vision recovery within 6 to 12 months. Thereafter, healing rates decrease and damage is more permanent. Even with good vision recovery, many will still have a varying amount of damage to their optic nerve.
The eye is a very important part of the body. Address warning signs of lasting damage with your doctor before they become irreversible. These warning signs include your vision worsening for more than two weeks and no improvement after eight weeks.
Written by: Lydia Krause
Medically reviewed on: May 16, 2017: University of Illinois-Chicago, College of Medicine
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