Optic neuritis is an inflammation of the optic nerve. Your optic nerve’s job is to send messages from your eye to your brain - if it’s affected you can experience problems with your vision.
Optic neuritis happens when the immune system attacks the fatty coating, called myelin, that protects the optic nerve. When the myelin is damaged, the optic nerve can’t send the right signals to the brain and this can lead to changes in vision.
Optic neuritis symptoms
Some of these symptoms are associated with other, more common eye conditions. However, if you are experiencing any of these symptoms or a sudden change to your vision you should get your eyes checked as soon as possible.
Optic neuritis can occur in both adults and children. It typically affects one eye in adults but both eyes in children under 10 years old.
The majority of people recover over a period of a few weeks. In chronic cases it can take far longer to recover but rarely more than one year. In general, you’ll regain full, or nearly full, vision although problems with night vision or seeing colours washedout can persist.
Causes of optic neuritis
Optic neuritis is caused by the immune system attacking the myelin that covers the optic nerve.
Once the myelin is inflamed it causes pain and disrupts the optic nerve’s ability to send messages from your eyes to the brain, although it’s not known why this happens.
Although rare, optic neuritis can also be caused by infections, such as:
- Lyme disease
Treatment of optic neuritis
Optic neuritis can be detected in an eye test, if your optometrist suspects you have optic neuritis, they’ll refer you to a hospital eye department where your diagnosis will be confirmed, and a treatment plan developed.