Optic neuritis is the swelling of the optic nerve around the eye. It’s a common MS symptom, and in most cases improves over time.
Article medically reviewed by Karen Vernon an MS Nursing Specialist at Salford Royal Foundation Trust, UK.
As we covered in our in-depth guide here, there are lots of different multiple sclerosis symptoms. One of the most common of those symptoms is optic neuritis. Sounds a bit technical, doesn’t it? We can explain.
If you haven’t heard of optic neuritis before, it’s the term for the inflammation or swelling of the optic nerve in the eye – so it affects your vision. While it’s a symptom of MS, it’s not exclusively a multiple sclerosis symptom, and people who don’t have MS can be affected by optic neuritis.
Much like many other MS symptoms, optic neuritis doesn’t affect everyone with multiple sclerosis. Symptoms vary from person to person, and the severity of optic neuritis also varies, too. For some, it might be a slight blurring of vision. For others, it could be a complete loss of vision.
“I had optic neuritis in my left eye. I didn’t lose my sight, but I had blurry vision and pain when moving my eye.” @Vik8
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Optic neuritis can often be an early sign of multiple sclerosis, but it doesn’t mean you’ll go on to be diagnosed with MS. There are other causes of optic neuritis, besides multiple sclerosis.
Optic neuritis can come on suddenly for some MSers, which is obviously unsettling. You might find it painful when you move your eye or eyes; vision might be blurry, or affected by blind spots. You might experience flashes of light, and difficulty identifying certain colours. You could completely lose the vision in one eye, though it can also affect both eyes.
“This is how my MS started when I was 21. I lost my sight for two hours in my left eye (I didn’t know it was MS then) and then five years later I had tunnel vision for two weeks - both times my vision went back to normal.” @deano
Optic neuritis usually improves over time, although that time period can vary from a few days to a few weeks and sometimes months. As the inflammation of the optic nerve gradually heals, you can begin to see improvements relatively quickly, though it can often take longer to feel properly ‘better’ and back to normal.
A complete recovery may take some time, and if you’ve been diagnosed with optic neuritis once, there’s a reasonably high chance that you may be affected again at a later date. It’s commonplace to have a recurrence within a few years.
“It should clear up. It’s a common telltale symptom of MS… it was one of my two symptoms when I was diagnosed. It did clear up, but it’s hard to recall whether it was before or after my drug therapy.”
“Hi, I was diagnosed with optic neuritis in my right eye a few months ago. The blurred blackness lasted about three weeks. It is loads better now – just comes and goes, especially when exercising or in the cold.”
If your optic neuritis is severe, you should seek medical advice to rule out any other ophthalmic problems that may need treatment. It’s advisable to seek further advice and treatment if you’ve completely lost the sight in one eye, or if both eyes have been affected by optic neuritis. If you’re experiencing pain that has a serious impact on the quality of your life, you should also speak to a doctor.
Optic neuritis can be treated with steroids, which in many cases assists with a faster recovery. It can also be treated from a practical perspective such as with prism on glasses to correct double vision. If you haven’t yet been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, but are experiencing optic neuritis, you may be asked to undergo some tests to establish whether you have MS.
Maintaining good eye health is important for everyone, especially people who have experienced optic neuritis. You should have regular eye checks with an optician; this is often where problems are initially picked up and referrals to ophthalmologists come from.
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