Optic neuritis is an inflammatory condition that occurs when the protective sheath around your optic nerve is damaged. The optic nerve, which is responsible for transferring nerve signals from the retina at the back of your eye to your brain for processing, becomes inflamed and you experience visual changes. There are a number of possible reasons damage can occur to the protective sheath, known as the myelin, including ocular herpes, toxins from tobacco and alcohol consumption, sinusitis and underlying neurological and autoimmune conditions, such as multiple sclerosis. Viral infections, such as meningitis, shingles and sinusitis, can also cause the condition. Here's what you need to know about optic neuritis:
Early symptoms of optic neuritis include blurred vision, reduced peripheral vision and night vision, inability to see colours clearly, eye floaters and eye pain. As the condition progresses, you can experience vision loss in one or both eyes and you may see flashing lights in your peripheral vision. Additionally, your pupils may not react as quickly to bright light as they should, and you may experience light sensitivity.
Diagnosis And Treatment Approach
Optic neuritis can be diagnosed during a routine eye exam using tonometry and an ophthalmoscope. Tonometry is a painless way to measure the pressure in your eyes and involves having warm puffs of air blown into your eyes by a small machine, and this machine records how your eyes respond. This can help diagnose optic neuritis, as inflammation around the optic nerve increases pressure within the eye.
An ophthalmoscope is a small magnifying device with a light attached to it, and your optometrist can use this to see into the back of your eye and observe the condition of the optic nerve. Images of the optic nerve can also be captured with an ophthalmoscope, and these images can be kept on file to record changes in the health of your eyes between eye exams.
Once diagnosed with optic neuritis, successful treatment is reliant upon identifying the underlying cause of the condition. Your health history and symptoms will be used to make a decision on the type of third party referral you require. For example, you may be referred to a neurologist, and they can organise an MRI of your brain to determine if you have lesions that indicate an underlying neurological condition.
While the cause of your optic neuritis is being investigated, your symptoms can be managed by your optometrist and GP. You may be prescribed corticosteroids to reduce inflammation. If a viral infection is suspected as the cause of your optic neuritis, you may be given interim interferon injections. This medication can inhibit viral cell replication and protect the cells in your eyes from further damage.
If you're experiencing any of the symptoms noted above, or if you're overdue an eye test, schedule an appointment with your optometrist as soon as possible.