Information for Patients
Optic Nerve Disorders
The optic nerve is a bundle of more than 1 million nerve fibers that carry visual messages. You have one connecting the back of each eye (your retina) to your brain. Damage to an optic nerve can cause vision loss. The type of vision loss and how severe it is depends on where the damage occurs. It may affect one or both eyes.
There are many different types of optic nerve disorders, including:
- Glaucoma is a group of diseases that are the leading cause of blindness in the United States. Glaucoma usually happens when the fluid pressure inside the eyes slowly rises and damages the optic nerve.
- Optic neuritis is an inflammation of the optic nerve. Causes include infections and immune-related illnesses such as multiple sclerosis. Sometimes the cause is unknown.
- Optic nerve atrophy is damage to the optic nerve. Causes include poor blood flow to the eye, disease, trauma, or exposure to toxic substances.
- Optic nerve head drusen are pockets of protein and calcium salts that build up in the optic nerve over time
Contact your health care provider if you are having vision problems. Tests for optic nerve disorders may include eye exams, ophthalmoscopy (an examination of the back of your eye), and imaging tests. Treatment depends on which disorder that you have. With some optic nerve disorders, you may get your vision back. With others, there is no treatment, or treatment may only prevent further vision loss.
Optic atrophy type 1 Optic atrophy type 1 is a condition that often causes slowly worsening vision, usually beginning in childhood. People with optic atrophy type 1 typically experience a narrowing of their field of vision (tunnel vision). Affected individuals gradually lose their sight as their field of vision becomes smaller. Both eyes are usually affected equally, but the severity of the vision loss varies widely, even among affected members of the same family, ranging from nearly normal vision to complete blindness.In addition to vision loss, people with optic atrophy type 1 frequently have problems with color vision (color vision deficiency) that make it difficult or impossible to distinguish between shades of blue and green.In the early stages of the condition, individuals with optic atrophy type 1 experience a progressive loss of certain cells within the retina, which is a specialized light-sensitive tissue that lines the back of the eye. The loss of these cells (known as retinal ganglion cells) is followed by the degeneration (atrophy) of the nerves that relay visual information from the eye to the brain (optic nerves), which results in further vision loss. Atrophy causes these nerves to have an abnormally pale appearance (pallor), which can be seen during an eye examination.