Symptoms of Swollen Optic Nerve or Neuritis and Its Treatments

Swollen Optic Nerve

Optic neuritis, also known as a swollen optic nerve, is the inflammation of the bundle of nerves behind the eye transmits information from the eye to the brain.

Vision loss is one of the most common symptoms of optic neuritis. The extent of it, however, varies from case to case.

The exact cause of the condition is not known, but possible risk factors have been identified. The condition often resolves on its own, but steroids may be used to help bring down the swelling. Most of the patients who get optic neuritis for the first time recover their vision.

Swollen Optic Nerve Symptoms

  • Gradual or sudden, partial or complete loss of vision. Often only one eye is affected by optic neuritis. In some cases, both eyes may be affected simultaneously.

  • Loss of Color Vision. Patients may find it hard to identify color or the colors can look duller or lighter than they are.

  • Pain is often observed with eye movement. The pain can start gradually and peak a few days later.

These signs and symptoms may also be associated with Multiple Sclerosis. Roughly 15 to 20 percent of the patients who get optic neuritis develop MS later in life.

Swollen Optic Nerve Causes

The exact cause of the condition is not known. Some theories suggest that the swelling is a result of an autoimmune response where the body’s immune system attacks the myelin sheath of the optic nerve. This is a process known as demyelization.

The demyelization affects the ability of the nerves to send out electrical signals. The damage also leads to inflammation.

Aside from this, Optic neuritis has also been associated with autoimmune conditions which include:

  • Multiple Sclerosis

  • Neuromyelitis Optica

  • Sarcoidosis

  • Systemic Lupus Erythematosus

Infections and certain inflammatory processes can also cause Optic Neuritis, which include:

  • Cranial Arteritis

  • Infections

Other possible causes include:

  • Certain Drugs (e.g. ethambutol)

  • Radiation Therapy

  • Chemotherapy

  • Nutritional Deficiencies

  • Tumors

Swollen Optic Nerve Treatment

Optic neuritis can be resolved over time, but certain treatments can be used to help relieve uncomfortable symptoms. These include the following:

  • Steroids. These help bring down the inflammation. Steroids can be taken orally or parenterally. Steroid use needs to be monitored as it can result in side effects such as weight gain, stomach upsets, and behavioral changes.

  • Pain medications help to reduce the pain which can be felt with eye movement.

Most of the people who get optic neuritis will regain normal or close to normal vision in a span of 12 months or less.

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