Optic nerve atrophy is the term used to describe the loss of a proportion of optic disc nerve fibres. It is an important sign of advanced optic nerve disease. It is said to be primary if it occurs without any preceding optic nerve head oedema and secondary if it is preceded by oedema.
Optic nerve atrophy is not a disease, but rather a sign of a potentially more serious condition. Optic atrophy results from damage to the optic nerve from many different kinds of pathologies. The condition can cause problems with vision, including blindness.
Causes of Optic nerve atrophy
The optic nerve is composed of nerve fibres
that transmit impulses to the brain. In the case of optic nerve atrophy, something is interfering with the optic nerve’s ability to transmit these impulses. The interference can be caused by numerous factors, including:
- Stroke of the optic nerve, known as anterior ischemic optic neuropathy
- A tumour that is pressing on the optic nerve
- Optic neuritis, an inflammation of the optic nerve caused by multiple sclerosis
- A genetic condition in which the person experiences loss of vision first in one eye, and then in the other
- Improper formation of the optic nerve, which is a congenital problem
The signs and symptoms of optic nerve atrophy include:
- Blurred vision
- Difficulties with peripheral (side) vision
- Difficulties with colour vision
- A reduction in sharpness of vision
Diagnosis of optic nerve atrophy
It is important to visit your eye specialist
if you experience any problems with your vision, especially those listed above.
If your ophthalmologist suspects optic nerve atrophy, he/she will examine your eyes with an instrument called an ophthalmoscope. The eye doctor will look at the optic disc, the point at the back of the eye where the optic nerve enters. In optic nerve atrophy, the optic disc
will be pale because of a change in the flow in the blood vessels.
Your ophthalmologist may also perform other tests to measure your vision and peripheral and colour vision. If the ophthalmologist suspects a tumour or multiple sclerosis, you may undergo a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) test
There is no real cure or treatment for optic atrophy. Therefore, it’s important to have regular eye exams
(especially if you have a family history of eye diseases), and to see your ophthalmologist
immediately if you have any changes in your vision.
The outlook for people with optic nerve atrophy depends on what is causing the problem. If the cause is optic neuritis, the patient can usually count on eventually getting his or her vision back when the inflammation
goes away. If the cause is some other optic neuropathy, the patient’s vision might not improve.