Optic nerve inflammation — or optic neuritis — occurs when the eye’s optic nerve becomes irritated and enlarged. This condition often results in eye pain and possible vision loss. Underlying diseases like diabetes, immune disorders, and multiple sclerosis usually lead to the inflammation. Young adults, particularly women, appear most susceptible to the affliction.
Two primary eye-related symptoms accompany optic nerve inflammation: pain and the loss of sight. The eye-centered pain typically worsens with eye movement and begins before visual disturbances manifest. Once vision has been affected, however, this result becomes the chief indicator of dysfunction. A visual disturbance may be a slight fading of color or it may escalate to a partial or even complete loss of vision. In the less extreme case, certain types of color vision are more severely hindered, like the color red.
If vision is only slightly altered, detection of optic nerve inflammation may prove difficult. The condition can affect only one eye, so the healthy eye may mask visual distortion somewhat by compensating for the other eye's ailment. Since the optic nerve is internal and connects the brain to the eye, a visible change in appearance is not probable for the afflicted individual. Even in a medical setting, the only apparent manifestation of optic neuritis in many cases is a very slight swelling of the optic nerve.
Disorders that cause bodily inflammation can impact the optic nerve. One of the most prevalent roots of optic nerve inflammation is the disease multiple sclerosis. In this inflammatory disorder, areas in the brain and spinal cord called myelin sheaths become irritated and eventually degenerate. Due to its close proximity to these nervous system areas, the optic nerve may suffer the consequences of this effect. Other types of inflammatory conditions that can contribute to optic neuritis include diabetes-related eye cell inflammation, disorders that mutate inflammation processes by attacking the immune system, and various types of bacterial or viral infection.
Diagnosis and treatment of optic nerve inflammation is important so that permanent vision loss may be prevented. General physicians may recommend an eye specialist — or ophthalmologist — if an advanced problem is suspected. If the diagnosis is optic neuritis, the specialist may recommend a corticosteroid injection treatment to accelerate healing, or, in minor cases, he or she may simply let the condition resolve itself. Therapies to suppress the immune system and its inflammatory capacities may be necessary in advanced conditions. Treatment of any underlying ailment is perhaps the strongest defense against optic nerve inflammation and other undesirable side effects.