What are the Common Causes of Optic Nerve Swelling?

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  • Written By: Meshell Powell
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 01 February 2020
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Optic nerve swelling, also known as optic neuritis, is a medical condition that can cause pain as well as temporary or permanent visual changes. Common symptoms include pain when moving the eye, clouded vision, and the development of a blind spot in the central vision. Potential causes of this condition include diseases such as multiple sclerosis or diabetes, thyroid disorders, or infections such as sinusitis. The swelling generally heals on its own without any treatment, although steroid treatments are often helpful.

Multiple sclerosis is the most common cause of optic nerve swelling. In those with this disease, the protective covering of various nerves in the body becomes damaged. Swelling in the optic nerve often the first symptom experienced by those with the condition. Those with this illness also have an increased risk of permanent visual changes, including complete blindness..

Diabetes, a medical condition in which the body is not able to properly regulate a hormone known as insulin, resulting in abnormal blood sugar levels, can also cause optic nerve problems. This illness can also lead to decreased blood flow to the optic nerve, often leading to swelling.

A thyroid disorder known as hypothyroidism is another potential cause of optic nerve swelling. If the thyroid gland does not produce enough hormones to keep the body functioning properly, many health issues can develop. This condition is particularly common in women who have experienced menopause.


Sinusitis is a relatively common cause of swelling in the optic nerve. It is an infection of the nasal cavity that can cause swelling of the nasal passages, the sinuses, and surrounding structures. Sinusitis may clear up on its own or may require antibiotic therapy, depending on the type of infection.

Treatment for optic neuritis is not always necessary, as most cases will resolve themselves within a few months. Steroids are often used to help clear up the condition sooner, however, and they can be given as oral medications, medicated eye drops, or IV therapy. Some patients will experience complete recovery, while others may develop varying degrees of permanent vision loss. It is important for individuals who experience pain in the eye or any sudden visual changes to consult an eye specialist or other medical professional.


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