Optic nerve atrophy is damage to the optic nerve. The optic nerve carries images of what the eye sees to the brain.
There are many causes of optic atrophy. The most common is poor blood flow. This is called ischemic optic neuropathy. The problem most often affects older adults. The optic nerve can also be damaged by shock, toxins, radiation, and trauma.
Eye diseases, such as glaucoma, can also cause a form of optic nerve atrophy. The condition can also be caused by diseases of the brain and central nervous system. These may include:
There are also rare forms of hereditary optic nerve atrophy that affect children and young adults.
Optic nerve atrophy causes vision to dim and reduces the field of vision. The ability to see fine detail will also be lost. Colors will seem faded. Over time, the pupil will be less able to react to light, and eventually, its ability to react to light may be lost.
The health care provider will do a complete eye exam to look for the condition. The exam will include tests of:
You may also need a complete physical exam and other tests.
Damage from optic nerve atrophy cannot be reversed. The underlying disease must be found and treated. Otherwise, vision loss will continue.
Rarely, conditions that lead to optic atrophy may be treatable.
Vision lost to optic nerve atrophy cannot be recovered. It is very important to protect the other eye.
People with this condition need to be checked regularly by an eye doctor with experience in nerve-related conditions. Tell your doctor right away about any change in vision.
Many causes of optic nerve atrophy cannot be prevented.
Prevention steps include:
Optic atrophy; Optic neuropathy
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Purvin V, Glaser JS. Topical Diagnosis: Prechiasmal Visual Pathways. In: Tasman W, Jaeger EA, eds. Duane's Ophthalmology 2013. Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2013:vol 2, chap 5.
Yanoff M, Cameron D. Diseases of the visual system. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 431.
Updated by: Franklin W. Lusby, MD, ophthalmologist, Lusby Vision Institute, La Jolla, CA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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