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Optic neuritis

5-minute read

Key facts

  • Optic neuritis is inflammation of your optic nerve (the nerve that sends visual information from your eyes to your brain).
  • It causes eye pain and problems with your vision.
  • Optic neuritis is linked to other health conditions, including multiple sclerosis.

What is optic neuritis?

Optic neuritis is when your optic nerve (the nerve that carries information about what you see from your eye to your brain) becomes inflamed.

It causes pain in your eye and problems with your vision.

What are the symptoms of optic neuritis?

Symptoms of optic neuritis can include:

  • pain in, around or behind your eye
  • eye pain that feels worse when you move your eye
  • blurred vision in one eye
  • colours appearing ‘washed out’, faded or dull
  • flashing or flickering lights when you move your eye
  • blind spots or areas of poor vision surrounded by normal vision
  • a sudden loss of vision

The symptoms usually come on over several days and get worse over about 2 weeks.

CHECK YOUR SYMPTOMS — Use the Symptom Checker and find out if you need to seek medical help.

What causes optic neuritis?

The exact cause of optic neuritis is not known. But it is thought that your body’s immune system might mistakenly attack the tissue covering the optic nerve.

Optic neuritis has been linked to other health conditions, including:

Optic neuritis usually affects one eye, but it can affect both your eyes.

When should I see my doctor?

If you have symptoms of optic neuritis, such as eye pain or vision changes, you should see your doctor as soon as possible.

FIND A HEALTH SERVICE — The Service Finder can help you find doctors, pharmacies, hospitals and other health services.

How is optic neuritis diagnosed?

Your doctor will ask about your symptoms, overall health and any medicines you take. They will examine you, including your eyes and vision.

Your doctor might refer you to an eye specialist (ophthalmologist) who can make a diagnosis by examining you and performing eye tests to check:

A diagram of a human eye
  • your eyesight
  • the inside of your eye
  • your colour vision
  • your peripheral (side) vision
  • how your pupils react to light

You may also need other tests to rule out other conditions or to find out the cause of optic neuritis. You might be asked to have:

Optic neuritis is sometimes the first sign that someone has multiple sclerosis.

ASK YOUR DOCTOR — Preparing for an appointment? Use the Question Builder for general tips on what to ask your GP or specialist.

How is optic neuritis treated?

Optic neuritis can get better on its own, in a few weeks or months.

Treatment with corticosteroids can help speed up your recovery. But treatment doesn’t affect how much vision you will recover in the long term.

Can optic neuritis be prevented?

Avoiding or quitting smoking can help reduce your risk of developing optic neuritis.

Getting enough vitamin D throughout life can also reduce your risk.

Complications of optic neuritis

Some people with optic neuritis have long-lasting problems with their vision. But vision is rarely severely affected.

People who have had optic neuritis have a risk of recurrence (getting it again). There is also an increased risk of getting multiple sclerosis.

Resources and support

Visit MS Plus for support and information about multiple sclerosis and related conditions or call on 1800 042 138.

You can call the healthdirect helpline on 1800 022 222 (known as NURSE-ON-CALL in Victoria). A registered nurse is available to speak with 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: November 2023

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