Optic Neuritis

What is optic neuritis (papillitis)?

Optic neuritis (papillitis) is an inflammation of the optic nerve head that is visible with the ophthalmoscope as a yellow disc. It usually presents on one eye only. Most commonly it is seen with multiple sclerosis, where it is due to demyelination of the optic nerve.

What are the signs and symptoms of optic neuritis?

Signs and symptoms and optic neuritis include visual loss on one eye that can present as a blind spot or that involves eventually all of the visual field of the affected eye. Blindness can develop rapidly within 1 or 2 days. The physician notices that the pupillary reflex to light of the affected eye is missing or quite weak.

How is optic neuritis diagnosed?

Using the ophthalmoscope the eye specialist sees swelling (edema) of the optic disc and increased size of the blood vessels (hyperemia) in an early stage. Later there is more inflammation and there can even be some bleeding form leaking blood vessels. An MRI scan in the case of a multiple sclerosis patient may show that there is demyelination of one optic nerve with the other one being normal.

How is optic neuritis treated?

Treatment is directed against the underlying cause. In the case of multiple sclerosis it has been shown in this study and others that early interferon treatment can make a difference in some patients.

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