Optic neuritis is inflammation of the optic nerve. It may cause sudden, reduced vision in the affected eye.
The exact cause of optic neuritis is unknown.
The optic nerve carries visual information from your eye to the brain. The nerve can swell when it becomes suddenly inflamed. The nerve fibers can be damaged and there can be a short or long-term loss of vision.
Conditions that have been linked with optic neuritis include:
- Autoimmune diseases, including lupus, sarcoidosis, and Behcet's disease
- Cryptococcosis, a fungal infection
- Bacterial infections, including tuberculosis, syphilis, Lyme disease, and meningitis
- Viral infections, including viral encephalitis, measles, rubella, chickenpox, herpes zoster, mumps, and mononucleosis
- Respiratory infections, including Mycoplasma pneumonia and other common upper respiratory tract infections
- Multiple sclerosis
Symptoms may include:
- Loss of vision in one eye over an hour or a few hours
- Changes in the way the pupil reacts to bright light
- Loss of color vision
- Pain when you move the eye
Vision often returns to normal within 2 to 3 weeks with no treatment.
Corticosteroids given through a vein (IV) or taken by mouth may speed up recovery. However, final vision is not better steroids. Oral steroids may actually increase the chance of recurrence.
Further tests may be needed to find the cause of the neuritis. The condition causing the problem can then be treated.
People who have optic neuritis without a disease such as multiple sclerosis have a good chance of recovery.
Optic neuritis caused by multiple sclerosis or other autoimmune diseases has a poorer outlook. However, vision in the affected eye may still return to normal.
Complications may include:
- Body-wide side effects from corticosteroids
- Vision loss
Some people who have an episode of optic neuritis will develop nerve problems in other places in the body or develop multiple sclerosis.
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call your health care provider right away if you have a sudden loss of vision in one eye, especially if you have eye pain.
If you have been diagnosed with optic neuritis, call your health care provider if:
- Your vision decreases.
- The pain in the eye gets worse.
- Your symptoms do not improve within 2 to 3 weeks.
Eze P, Sra SK, Sra KK, Friedlaender M, Trocme SD. Immunology of neurologic and endocrine diseases that affect the eye. In: Tasman W, Jaeger EA, eds. Duane's Foundations of Clinical Ophthalmology. 2013 ed. Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2013: vol 2, chap 35.
Jacobs DA, Guercio JR, Balcer LJ. Inflammatory optic neuropathies and neuroretinitis. In: Yanoff M, Duker JS, eds. Ophthalmology. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2013:chap 9.7.
Purvin V, Glaser JS. Topical diagnosis: prechiasmal visual pathways. In: Tasman W, Jaeger EA, eds. Duane's Ophthalmology. 2013 ed. Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2013:vol 2, chap 5.
Update Date 2/23/2015
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.