What is optic neuritis?

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Optic neuritis is inflammation of the eye’s optic nerve. The optic nerve is formed by a bundle of nerve fibres that carries light signals from the back of the eye to the brain, allowing us to see our surroundings. If the optic nerve is inflamed, injured or infected, the person will have blurred vision. 

It is estimated that it affects 5 in every 100,000 people. It most commonly affects Caucasian women aged between 20 and 40 years. 

Optic neuritis explained in first person

Professionals and patients explain how you live with the disease
It’s true that some cases do evolve more unfavourably; but the vast majority, 93%, have very good vision after suffering an episode of nerve inflammation.

The cause of neuritis is not exactly known, but it could be that the immune system mistakenly attacks the myelin sheath covering the optic nerve.  

Optic neuritis can be associated with different diseases:  

  • Multiple sclerosis: this is an autoimmune disease where the immune system attacks the myelin sheath covering the nerves in the brain. People with optic neuritis have a 50% chance of developing multiple sclerosis over the course of their lives. People with multiple sclerosis are also more likely to have optic neuritis.  

  • Neuromyelitis optica: a type of inflammation that affects the optic nerve and the spinal cord. It is similar to multiple sclerosis, but the brain is not as badly damaged. Nevertheless, it is more severe than multiple sclerosis, meaning people often recover more poorly from neuromyelitis.  

  • Anti-myelin oligodendrocyte glycoprotein antibody associated disorder: this is a disease that can affect the optic nerve, brain or spinal cord. Relapses are common in this disease, but recovery from flare-ups tends to be better than in neuromyelitis optica.  

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