The Danger of Optic Neuritis

Not much is known about what causes Optic Neuritis, an inflammation of the optic nerve. It often flares up suddenly, usually in connection with an infection, virus or nerve disease. There is a strong connection between optic neuritis and Multiple Sclerosis (MS), and often one of the early symptoms of MS is an optic neuritis flare up,

What are the Symptoms of Optic Neuritis?

Often, the early symptoms of optic neuritis are pain in the back of the eye and loss of vision in one or both eyes. This usually, although not always, comes on suddenly and the pain is increased by eye movement. Other symptoms include blurred vision, a change in colour vision with colours appearing dull and faded, vision dimming as if someone has dimmed the lights, loss of peripheral vision, or the appearance of flashing or flickering lights. Although symptoms often appear suddenly, they can sometimes come on gradually over a period of time. They may tend to get worse if you are tired or overheated. Untreated, optic neuritis can cause damage to your optic nerve and potentially lead to vision loss or even blindness in one or both eyes.

If I have Optic Neuritis, Does that Mean I will Develop Multiple Sclerosis?

Multiple sclerosis causes inflammation in the nerves of the brain and spinal column, including the optic nerve, which is why optic neuritis can be a warning sign of MS. However, there are a number of other potential causes of optic neuritis. These include viral infections such as influenza (flu), measles, mumps or herpes; or bacterial infections such as lyme disease, tuberculosis and syphilis. Optic neuritis may even be triggered by auto-immune diseases like lupus. Other neuropathic conditions may even bring on an attack of optic neuritis. But even though MS isn’t the only condition that causes optic neuritis, it is one condition that causes it, and thus should be taken seriously. Book appointments with both your optometrist and family doctor, just to be on the safe side.

Who is at Risk for Optic Neuritis?

Although anyone with the above mentioned conditions is at risk of developing optic neuritis, there are some people who are at greater risk.  All adults between ages 18 and 45, are at risk, with women more likely to develop optic neuritis than men. Of course, people with a history of auto-immune disease or MS are also at risk.

What should I do if I Think I have Optic Neuritis?

If you have any change in your vision, especially eye pain, make an appointment to see your optometrist immediately. Your optometrist will be able to tell you what you are dealing with, and offer you the best advice regarding your next steps, including whether or not you should be booking an appointment with your family doctor.  Don’t take any chances with your eyes or your health.