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Optic Neuritis Symptoms and Treatment - Are You at Risk?

Optic Neuritis Medically known as “retrobulbar neuritis”, optic neuritis is an acute inflammation of the optic nerve resulting in painful loss of vision and is quite common in people suffering from multiple sclerosis. To better understand the basics of optic neuritis, you should first understand the structure and function of optic nerve and other related details.

What is the optic nerve?
Optic nerve is a nerve located at the back of the eye which is critical for the normal functioning of your eyes. It is composed of fibers that transfer visual information in the form of signals from the nerve cells in the retina to the nerve cells in the brain.

In other words, optic nerve is the nerve that transmits impulses from the eyes to the brain. In optic neuritis, fibers of this nerve become inflamed, leading to the subsequent disturbance or interruption of this visual signaling to the brain.

What causes optic neuritis?
While optic neuritis may occur separately, it is mostly associated with another serious medical disease called Multiple Sclerosis (MS). MS is a degenerative disease that dissolves the myelin sheath around nerves, such as the optic nerve.

In addition, optic neuritis can also be caused by diseases like Multiple Sclerosis, Lupus, viral infections and some medications. 

Who is at risk?
Age: While optic neuritis can occur during any time of life, the average age of a first-time patient is 30 years. In most cases, it usually affects adults under 45 years of age.

Gender: Women are twice as likely to contract optic neuritis as men are.

Race: Optic neuritis is about 8 times more common in whites of Northern European descent than in Asians or blacks.

Signs and symptoms
If you develop optic neuritis, you may experience severe pain especially when you try to move the eye. You may also feel difficulty in and distinguishing colors with the affected eye (color blindness) and blurred vision.

The onset of optic neuritis usually begins with vision impairment in one eye but may affect both eyes on rare occasions. This vision loss tends to become even worse in bright light.

In all of these symptoms, the pain generally comes first, and as it goes away vision loss starts, setting in over the course of several months. Additional symptoms include the perception of quick light flashes for about 2 seconds or less (known as phosphenes). These light flashes occur when there is sudden vibration or sound.

What are the complications of optic neuritis?
Optic neuritis is a serious medical condition that needs to be taken care of immediately. If left untreated, optic neuritis can lead to permanent damage and loss of vision (blindness) in one or both eyes.

How is optic neuritis diagnosed?
Through vision tests: A Pelli-Robson chart measures the patient's sensitivity to contrast and an Ishihara color plate tests the patient's color vision. These results will frequently be below normal in patients with optic neuritis.

Laboratory tests: Most of the time, doctors also recommend blood tests to eliminate other possible conditions such as optic neuropathy and an analysis of the spinal fluid to rule out MS.

MRI (Magnetic resonance imaging): The purpose of the MRI, by and large, is to see if there is excessive white matter surrounding your brain as this is a predictor of multiple sclerosis.

How is optic neuritis treated?
While many patients suffering from optic neuritis recover their vision and their optic neuritis usually clears up on its own within 4-10 weeks, treatment is often required.

Medical treatment of optic neuritis consists of the following
Steroids: Standard medicine advocates the use of IV corticosteroids to treat optic neuritis. However, there is no evidence this helps improve visual acuity after one year. After intravenous steroid therapy, a doctor may additionally prescribe an oral steroid called prednisone for several weeks. Oral steroids are prescribed after intravenous steroids because studies have shown that taking oral steroids alone can result in a recurrence of optic neuritis.

Plasma exchange therapy: When steroid therapy has failed and severe vision loss persists, plasma exchange therapy may help some people recover their vision. Plasma exchange therapy is when plasma is removed from blood cells by a cell separator. The cells are then returned to the person undergoing treatment, while the plasma, which contains the antibodies, is discarded and replaced with other fluids.

Nevertheless, most of the patients undergo good recovery within the period of 6 months from the time of onset. However, better chances of recovery may only be possible when optic neuritis is not associated with any other underlying disease (such as MS).

Natural hints and tips to treat or prevent optic neuritis
Get adequate sunlight exposure: Get adequate exposure to sunlight. While too much exposure to the sun’s harmful rays should be avoided, this in no way should stop you from taking the recommended advantages of the same. Use sunscreen and spend a reasonable time outside.

Take “eye rest”: When having an acute flare of optic neuritis, your eyes will become tired more quickly. Resting the eyes frequently often helps. “Eye rest” means closing your eyes for few minutes. Also avoid watching TV / computer screen or reading any kind of material during this period of rest. You may also increase the resolution on your computer screen or use voice recognition and text reading software. These technologies help decrease eye strain and pain.

Consume a healthy, nutritious diet: You should eat a well-balanced diet full of nutrients especially multi vitamins. While all vitamins are beneficial, vitamin D and B complex are especially considered very helpful in treatment and prevention against any type of neuritis.

Visit the eye doctor regularly: As recommended, you should see your eye doctor at least once or twice a year even everything “seems” to be okay. Regular visits to the doctor or an optometrist can lead to early diagnosis and the prevention of optic neuritis escalating into full blindness.

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