What is Optic Neuritis?

Optic neuritis is inflammation of the optic nerve, which transmits visual signals from the eye to the brain. This inflammation causes damage to the myelin (an insulating sheath that covers the nerve and helps transmit these signals), leading to symptoms such as eye pain, temporary vision loss in one eye, a decreased ability to perceive colors vividly, and flashing or flickering lights.

Optic neuritis can be one of the first indicators of multiple sclerosis, a condition that can also cause inflammation in the optic nerve as well as the brain. Your lifetime risk of developing multiple sclerosis is roughly 50% after a single episode of optic neuritis; this risk is higher in people with lesions on their brain, which may appear on a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan.

Other conditions are also frequently associated with optic neuritis. These include neuromyelitis optica (a condition that causes more severe inflammation in the optic nerve and spinal cord than multiple sclerosis), myelin oligodendrocyte glycoprotein (MOG) antibody disorder (which also causes inflammation in the optic nerve, spinal cord, or brain), bacterial infections, viruses, sarcoidosis, Behcet’s disease, and lupus. Certain substances, such as methanol and ethambutol, are also associated with optic neuritis.

It is rare for symptoms such as vision loss or reduced color perception to be permanent after an episode of optic neuritis. Although most people will regain most or all of their normal vision, some degree of permanent optic nerve damage is also common.

An ophthalmologist can diagnose optic neuritis based on a variety of tests, including:

  • A standard eye exam
  • An ophthalmoscopy
  • A pupillary light reaction test
  • An optical coherence tomography (OCT)
  • A visual field test
  • A visual evoked response test

In addition to these exams, you may require other diagnostic procedures such as an MRI scan or a blood test to check for other potential indicators of optic neuritis. Your doctor may refer you to other specialists or locations for these tests.

You can receive a diagnosis or treatment for optic neuritis at Jamaica Hospital Medical Center’s Department of Ophthalmology. To schedule an appointment, please call (718) 206-5900.

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