10 optic neuritis symptoms

By Richard S, Brenda Md Article Sources

Optic neuritis causes partial or total vision loss for 1-5 out of every 100,000 people a year.[[1]] It’s caused by swelling around the optic nerve that carries visual information from the eyes to the brain. It can happen as part of another condition, such as multiple sclerosis or lupus, or on its own. Detected early, optic neuritis can be treated.[[2]] Untreated, the condition can cause permanent vision loss by damaging the optic nerve. Knowing the common symptoms of optic neuritis can help those affected identify it and get treatment before irreversible damage is done.

Eye Pain

The swelling that causes optic neuritis puts pressure on the surrounding tissues and may be associated with chronic inflammation.[[2]] This can cause pain that’s localized behind the eyes, but the pain may be felt as originating in the eyes themselves. This pain can be referred from the site of the inflammation and swelling to other areas. It may be felt as localized pain in several locations in the head, which may be mild, moderate, or severe.

boy rubbing his eyes


Painful Eye Movements

Many people who experience eye pain as a symptom of optic neuritis report that the pain gets worse with eye movement. Moving the eyes can briefly increase the pressure that’s causing the pain and cause spikes in the pain’s severity. There are several reasons a person might experience painful eye movements, and a passing episode of transitory eye pain is not necessarily a sign of serious trouble. Persistently painful eye motion should always be cause for concern, however.

woman looking up with veins in her eye showing



Many things can cause headaches, which may be experienced as a general pain localized somewhere in the head and may be mild to severe. Occasional headaches are common, and most of the time they’re not cause for concern. Frequent headaches are sometimes a symptom of optic neuritis. This pain is typically felt as a dull ache behind the eyes or in the forehead and temples. Sometimes, it may be felt in the back of the head as well.[[3]]

woman holding her head in pain


Rapid Decline in Vision in One or Both Eyes

The pressure buildup caused by optic neuritis can affect one or both eyes. While there are many reasons for a loss of vision in both eyes, a decline in vision that only affects one eye can be a symptom of optic neuritis.[[3]] The speed at which this happens is another indicator of the underlying problem. Optic neuritis is an inflammatory disorder, and it can come on as quickly as any other inflammation. A rapid loss of vision should always be reported to a doctor.

glasses being held up to a blurry eye chart


Loss of Visual Field

Optic neuritis can be unpredictable in how it damages the optic nerve. This commonly shows up as the loss of either peripheral vision or vision in the central field of view.[[4]] There is no way to predict whether optic neuritis will affect side vision first, or if it will degrade vision in the middle of a person’s field. Either of these optic neuritis symptoms is problematic.

doctor checking man's eyes with light


Loss of Color Vision

The pressure optic neuritis puts on the optic nerve might show up early on as a loss of color vision. For a person with previously normal color vision, the onset of red-green color blindness should be evaluated by a doctor. Loss of color vision caused by optic neuritis tends to affect perception of red and green more than other colors. A slow onset might be so gradual the person doesn’t notice the change at first.

black and white eye with red, blue, and green in the pupil


Flashing Lights

Pressure on the optic nerve has the potential to send fictitious signals down the nerve and into the brain. Seemingly random firing of the nerve can be perceived as flashing lights or a sparkling effect. Optic neuritis typically causes flashing lights or other visual changes during an acute episode of nerve inflammation and resolve afterwards. Occasionally seeing a flash, especially if it only lasts a moment, may not be serious, but episodes of flashing lights or persistent flashing needs to be evaluated.

sparkler in person's hand


Conditions That Cause Optic Neuritis

Optic neuritis can occur on its own, for no obvious reason, or it could be caused by another condition. Lyme disease, measles, mumps, and diabetes have all been associated with optic neuritis.[[3]] The condition can also be associated with autoimmune or other inflammatory diseases. Lupus and multiple sclerosis are both associated with optic neuritis. These episodes of vision impairments may occur over the years and become a long-term health problem.[[5]]

middle aged man smiling


Other Conditions Associated With Optic Neuritis

Optic neuritis can be associated with a bacterial infection that causes Lyme disease or viral infections responsible for mumps or measles. Drugs like ethambutol or toxic agents like methanol can also cause optic neuritis. Sometimes, there is no obvious cause or associated conditions. It can come on suddenly and persist long term. Early treatment is often a preferred option for optic neuritis. If identified, the underlying cause of optic neuritis also requires treatment.

woman sitting on a tree stump staring at land


Treatment for Optic Neuritis

Treatment for optic neuritis starts with controlling the inflammation and swelling. A doctor will often prescribe steroidal medication to bring down the inflammation response and relieve the pressure, hopefully preventing immediate damage. Long-term treatment usually addresses the underlying cause of optic neuritis. Medication, especially immunotherapies for lupus or multiple sclerosis, are used to manage the patient’s underlying cause. If no cause for the swelling is identified, treatment may be limited to just controlling the symptoms of optic neuritis.[[3]]

different types of medication


The information provided is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Consult a qualified healthcare provider before starting any program. Reliance on any information is solely at your own risk. In case of a medical emergency, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room.

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