Does MS affect your eyes?

There are three main visual symptoms that are common in people with multiple sclerosis (MS). In fact, visual issues are often the first symptom of MS. The good news is, the prognosis for recovery from these issues is usually good with treatment.

Optic neuritis

Optic neuritis is caused by either inflammation or demyelination of the optic nerve at the back of the eye. This nerve transmits signals from the eye to the brain. The disruption in signalling causes visual disturbances which can present as blurring, or a reduction in colour vision, or loss of parts of vision.

Optic neuritis can also cause pain behind the eyes of a headache, as well as visual flashing sensations. Usually just one eye is affected, although it can affect both.


In this condition, the eyes move involuntarily, usually horizontally but sometimes vertically or in circular movements. There are two types of nystagmus – one called congenital nystagmus which appears in the first few months of life, and acquired nystagmus which develops later and is usually what you’d experience with MS.

Often people don’t notice their eyes are doing this until someone points it out, or they notice when looking in the mirror.


Also known as double vision, this often shows up as an early symptom of MS. The muscles of the eyes become uncoordinated due to being weakened and this disturbs the vision. It can affect spatial orientation too which can affect balance. Thankfully, it is usually temporary, and it’s often brought on by eye fatigue – for example by using a computer for too long. Resting the eyes can help.

If you experience double vision, talk to your GP or MS nurse about a referral to an ophthalmologist.

There are ways to manage visual symptoms in MS, including lifestyle and nutrition methods as well as medication. To find out more, download our newly revised Visual Symptoms Choices booklet.