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Optic neuritis and MS

iStock-904246150.jpgOptic neuritis is a common symptom of MS that affects the eyes

Multiple sclerosis (MS) can present a huge range of symptoms and no two people’s experiences are the same. But one very common symptom is optic neuritis. This is when inflammation damages the optic nerve that transmits visual information from your eye to your brain. It can cause a temporary loss of vision in one eye, pain when you move your eyes, loss of colour vision, or seeing flashing lights when you move your eyes.

Around seven in ten people with MS will have optic neuritis at some point in their lives. Women are much more likely to experience it than men, and white people are affected more than any other ethnicity. The most common age to be affected is between 20 and 40 years old.

Some people experience optic neuritis as the first symptom of MS, while others may experience it in a later stage of the condition.

Although it is quite strongly associated with MS, not everyone who has optic neuritis will go on to get MS. For someone who experiences one episode of optic neuritis, the risk for getting MS is around 50 per cent.


An ophthalmologist or neurologist will diagnose optic neuritis. You may have blood tests and a test that measures how well your optic nerve is working called visual evoked potentials. It looks at how long your brain takes to react to a visual signal. They may also run an MRI scan on the optic nerve to check for inflammation.

In general, vision loss can get progressively worse over seven to 10 days. It will then begin improving between one and three months later. Thankfully, most people fully recover their vision.

Although optic neuritis is caused by MS, some other conditions can cause the optic nerve to inflame. These include infections or immune diseases such as lupus. A condition called neuromyelitis optica can also cause it, although this is rare.


Sometimes complications can arise from optic neuritis. There can be permanent optic nerve damage, although this damage might not necessarily cause symptoms. There can be a partial loss of vision or colour loss that becomes permanent, although most people regain normal or almost normal vision within a few months.

If you think you may have optic neuritis, make an appointment with your doctor.

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