What is Optic Neuritis?
Jacksonville, FL area patients suffering from optic neuritis have numerous options for treatment regarding this common eye condition. When the optic nerve becomes inflamed, this is known as optic neuritis. The optic nerve is the bundle of nerves that go from the retina in the back of the eye to the brain transmitting signals to relay visual information. Optic neuritis is often a precursor of multiple sclerosis (MS), which is a chronic disease that results in damage and inflammation of the nerves of both the brain and spinal cord. For some patients, an episode of optic neuritis is the first indication that a patient could be suffering from MS. Optic neuritis usually results in eye pain and changes or loss of vision. The condition usually resolves itself, but if not, there are various treatment options available to alleviate the symptoms. Southeastern Retina Specialists, Dr. John Sullivan and Dr. Shawn Agee, will thoroughly diagnose the progression of optic neuritis so that treatment management can be customized for the patient.
Causes and Symptoms
The exact reason for patients developing optic neuritis is unknown. There is a belief that the condition arises when the immune system overreacts and targets the myelin, or covering, of the optic nerve. This reaction leads to inflammation and damage to the myelin, which is responsible for aiding the ability of electrical impulses to move from the eye to the brain quickly. Multiple sclerosis has also been shown to be a risk factor for developing optic neuritis since MS involves the immune system attacking the myelin sheath of the spinal cord and brain.
Other conditions and factors that can cause optic neuritis are:
- Neuromyelitis optica – condition that results in inflammation of the optic nerve and spinal cord
- Sarcoidosis – groups of cells that form tiny groups over various parts of the body
- Systemic lupus – autoimmune disorder characterized by inflammation over various parts of the body
- Bacterial infections – measles, mumps, syphilis, herpes, Lyme disease
- Certain drugs and medications, such as Myambutol® that is used to treat tuberculosis
Symptoms of optic neuritis include:
- Eye pain
- Vision loss (temporary or permanent)
- Decreased color perception
- Appearance of flashing lights
"He is a very caring Doctor, he will not milk your insurance, he will not give you unnecessary surgery if you don't need it. I will never trust anyone else with my vision"- M.H. / Healthgrades / Aug 17, 2016
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Diagnosing optic neuritis usually begins with a comprehensive eye exam carried out by your ophthalmologist. Your doctor will check your overall vision and color perception and will use a special light to visually inspect various eye structures. Your doctor will pay close attention to your optic disk, the area where the optic nerves enter the retina, to check for any inflammation. A pupillary light reaction test can also be used to see how your pupils react to the bright light from a flashlight placed in front of the eyes.
A visual evoked response test involves the placement of wires with small patches to your head as you sit with a screen in front of you with a pattern. Through the wires and patches, your brain’s responses to the visual pattern, or stimuli, are recorded to determine the rate of the impulses. An MRI can also be conducted to get a visual scan of your optic nerve and brain. It can also check for the presence of brain lesions, which could mean you have a higher chance of developing MS. Blood tests can also be done to check your blood for certain antibodies.
Treatment and Prognosis
Usually, optic neuritis resolves itself and requires no treatment. Some patients require intravenous steroid medications to decrease inflammation of the optic nerve. These medications may help a patient recover vision quicker, but all vision may not be recovered. Using steroid medications have been shown to either reduce the chance of developing MS or slow down its progression. If steroid treatment isn’t effective, plasma exchange therapy can be used to help certain patients recover their vision.
If a patient with optic neuritis is deemed to have a higher probability of developing MS (2+ brain lesions on an MRI scan), he or she could be candidates for drug therapy to prevent MS. There are various injectable drugs that can be taken to lower a patient’s risk of developing the disease.
Most patients can expect normal vision, or close to it, in about 12 months after experiencing optic neuritis. MS or neuromyelitis optic patients may have recurring episodes of optic neuritis. After 1 episode of optic neuritis, patients have about a 50% chance of developing MS in their lifetime. Patients without underlying medical conditions have a better prognosis than those with previous health issues.
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Treat Optic Neuritis
Our trained staff is here to meet all of your ophthalmological needs, where we can diagnose and treat many conditions, including optic neuritis. If you are experiencing any symptoms, we urge you to come in. Give our office a call today.