Swollen Optic Nerve

A swollen optic nerve is a condition characterized by temporary visual changes. There is an assortment of reasons why an optic nerve becomes swollen and these are often connected to some form of autoimmune disorder. People suffering from the swelling of an optic nerve feel pain especially when moving the eyes. The severity of a swollen optic nerve differs from person to person, and sometimes, it could result to permanent loss of vision.

Although most cases of swollen optic nerve clear on their own, a person should never take for granted its occurrence. This is especially important if it appears time and again. A consultation with an eye doctor is needed to determine the cause and recommend an appropriate treatment method. It often takes up to a few months for an inflamed optic nerve to resolve on its own.

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How does optic nerve work ?

People suffering from a swollen optic nerve often find themselves having issues with their vision. This is because the optic nerve is a type of nerve that is made up of nerve tracts found in the retina of the eyes whose main function is to send visual information from the eyes to the brain. From the retina, the information is carried into the nerve cells within the stem of the brain and then transmitted to the occipital cortex, the part of the brain responsible for establishing vision. An infection or reaction on the optic nerve will result in inflammation.

How common is a swollen optic nerve?

Swollen optic nerve is widespread among adults between 20 and 45 years of age. Studies also showed that the higher incidence of an inflamed optic nerve occurs among women, affecting either one or both eyes. It was also noted that Caucasians are 8 times predisposed to optic nerve swelling than people from other races such as Hispanics, Asians and Blacks. The condition may also affect children but it is rare; though a family history of multiple sclerosis increases one’s risk.

Swollen Optic Nerve and associated medical conditions

People suffering from certain types of health problems will likely also experience a swollen optic nerve. Examples of these are:

  • Multiple Sclerosis (MS)

Majority of the cases of swollen optic nerves involve individuals with or have a family history of multiple sclerosis. MS is a condition wherein the protective shield of the nerves becomes damaged. People suffering from MS are at risk of losing their vision completely due to optic nerve swelling.

  • Diabetes

Another common cause of optic nerve swelling is diabetes which occurs as a result of the inability of the body to regulate the hormone insulin, leading to abnormal levels of blood sugar in the body. Because of this, optimum blood flow to the optic nerve is not achieved thus resulting in inflammation.

  • Thyroid disorder

Hypothyroidism is a form of thyroid disorder in which the thyroid gland produces insufficient amounts of thyroid hormones resulting to myriad of health problems including swollen optic nerve.

  • Sinusitis

Sinusitis occurs when the nasal cavity is infected resulting in the inflammation of sinuses, nasal passages as well as the optic nerve.

Swollen Optic Nerve symptoms

People with swollen optic nerves will experience a variety of symptoms including:

  • Vision changes

An inflamed optic nerve affects the visual acuity of an individual.  He or she will suffer from blurry vision that worsens up to 7 days before stabilizing.

  • Pain when making eye movement

Sufferers will feel some pain when making eye movements which tends to worsen in a week before it ceases.

  • Headache

People with inflamed optic nerves suffer from dull headache that is often felt on the surrounding area of the affected eye.

  • Impaired color vision

A person’s ability to distinguish colors sharply is impaired as the swollen optic nerve makes him or her see colors in darker or lighter shades than their original hues.

  • Abnormal Phosphenes appearance

Phosphenes refer to the radiant impressions occurring whenever the retina goes through non-radiant stimulation. Under normal conditions, phosphenes are observed when a person rubs his or her eyes with closed eyelids. With an inflamed optic nerve, phosphenes are simply noted even without pressure and are more obvious when in a dark room when a person moves his or her eyes or initiate a side gaze with closed eyelids.

  • Impaired vision in bright lights

A swollen optic nerve impairs a person’s ability to see bright lights clearly by paralyzing the pupils’ ability to react to bright lights normally.

  • Blind spots

People with inflamed optic nerves will observe some blind spots on their central vision making driving, reading, writing or any activities that require looking straight ahead difficult.

Treatment for swollen optic neve

A swollen optic nerve usually clears by itself. But treatment is primarily based on the cause of the inflammation.   The inflammation is often treated with steroid medications, either through oral, eye drops or intravenous therapy.

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