Definition of Optic Nerve Atrophy

Optic Nerve Atrophy – death of nerve cells within the optic nerve, affecting the optic nerve’s ability to convey nerve signals from the eye to the brain – can be partial or complete; when complete there is total loss of vision. Conditions of the eye or systemic neurologic disorders can cause optic nerve atrophy. Symptoms include diminished visual acuity and visual field.

Causes of Optic Nerve Atrophy

Eye ConditionsNeurologic or Systemic Conditions
congenital optic nerve hypoplasiamultiple sclerosis
ischemic optic neuropathytraumatic brain injury (tbi)
congenital cataractstroke
retinitis pigmentosamethanol poisoning
glaucomauntreated syphilis

Diagnostic Path, Treatment, Risk Factors

The diagnostic path begins with ophthalmoscopy, which allows the ophthalmologist to see the visual changes in the optic disk (end point of the optic nerve where it joins the retina) that denote its atrophy.

Further assessment to determine the cause may include diagnostic imaging procedures such as computed tomography (ct) scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and a comprehensive neurologic examination.

Treatment targets the underlying cause, though it cannot recover vision already lost. Treatment that can halt the causative condition can prevent further loss of vision, though when the cause is a degenerative disorder such as multiple sclerosis vision loss is likely to continue.

People who smoke cigarettes or consume high quantities of alcohol, particularly in combination, have a higher risk for developing idiopathic optic nerve atrophy (in which the cause remains undetermined. Nutritional supplements containing vitamin a and the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin may improve visual acuity.


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