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Posted on 09-30-2016
Optic Neuritis is an inflammation of the optic nerve. The optic nerve carries visual information from the retina to the brain, so the information can be interpreted as sight. When the optic nerve is inflamed and swells up, the flow of information is interrupted, and the brain can't tell us that we're seeing things. This swelling may damage axons that help transmit visual information, or it may affect the covering that protects the optic nerve. Optic Neuritis can lead to either a partial or total loss of sight if not treated and managed by a doctor, or our Houston optometrist.
The most common cause of optic neuritis is multiple sclerosis. The body's nervous system is protected by the myelin sheath, a fatty material that surrounds and insulates the nerve fibers. In multiple sclerosis, the myelin sheath is damaged, and the damaged parts create scar tissue. When this happens to the optic nerve, it causes the inflammation and neuritis. About 66% of people with multiple sclerosis will have this condition.
Other causes of this neuritis can be autoimmune diseases. In autoimmune diseases, the body's immune system mistakes a part of the body for an intruder, and tries to destroy it. Neuromyelitis optica is a disease that attacks the optic nerve and spinal cord. It's somewhat similar to multiple sclerosis, but doesn't affect the brain. Systemic lupus erythematosus is another autoimmune disease that can cause neuritis of the optic nerve.
It can also be caused by bacterial infections, radiation therapy, and some drugs. Ethambutol, which is used to treat tuberculosis, has been associated with it.
Symptoms of optic nerve neuritis include blurry or distorted vision, washed-out color vision, or complete loss of color vision. There can also be eye pain. The vision loss can be partial or complete. People can lose vision in as short a time as a day, or it may be spread out over 2 weeks. Exercise can make vision loss worse.
Anyone with these symptoms should see a Houston optometrist as soon as possible. The diagnosis is usually made by testing a person's visual accuracy and color perception. Patients may also show a loss of peripheral vision. Sometimes the optometrist can see swelling in the optic nerve, and also in the blood vessels around it. People with this suspected neuritis often receive an MRI, to get a better look at the optic nerve, and also to determine if the cause is multiple sclerosis.
Once the diagnosis is made, the treatment will depend on the cause of the neuritis. If it's caused by multiple sclerosis or an autoimmune disease, patients are usually treated with immune system-suppressing drugs to address the underlying cause. If there's another cause, the treatment will be steroids. The regimen is generally three days of intravenous steroids, and then 11 days of oral steroids. Doctors have found that patients treated with steroids cut their risk of developing multiple sclerosis in the next 2 years in half.
Optic neuritis can be scary, and difficult to treat. Fortunately, most people who develop this condition recover, and never have a recurrence of it.
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