Optic Nerve Atrophy

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Optic nerve atrophy means that the optic nerve is limited in its capacity to transmit accurate information about what the eye sees. The optic nerve carries images of what we see coded as electrical impulses, from the retina to our brain.

When the ophthamologist looks in your eye she can see that the pale optic nerve is visibly atrophied and looks pale. It has partially or seriously wasted away resulting in partial or serious loss or change in vision.

Self Help & Tips


The symptoms described here may not necessarily mean that you have optic nerve atrophy. However, if you experience one or more of these symptoms, contact your eye doctor for a complete exam.

  • Blurred vision
  • Decrease in visual function such as a decrease in sharpness and clarity of vision (visual acuity) or decreases in side (peripheral) vision. Color vision and contrast sensitivity can also be affected.
  • Poor constriction of the pupil in light
  • Decreased brightness in one eye relative to the other
  • Change in the optic disc


Most commonly, optic nerve atrophy occurs without a known or proven cause.

Causes leading to optic atrophy range from eye injury or trauma to systemic eye conditions and diseases. These include:

  • Optic neuritis occurs when the optic nerve is inflammed. The person might notice eye pain which is more severe when they move their eye. It mostly found in young to middle-aged women. Some people with this condition may develop multiple sclerosis later on in life.
  • Leber's hereditary optic neuropathy is a hereditary eye disease mostly occurring in late teens to early 20s young men. It is characterized by development over a few weeks of painless, serious, central visual loss in one eye, followed months or weeks later by the same process in the other eye. In the beginning there might be slight swelling, but eventually the optic nerve atrophied resulting in, usually, permanent vision loss.
  • Toxic optic neuropathy. Optic atrophy can result from nutritional deficiencies, some medications, and toxins which damage the optic nerve causing gradual or sudden vision loss. The most common optic neuropathy from poisons and toxins is called as tobacco-alcohol amblyopia, thought to be caused by exposure to cyanide from tobacco smoking, and by low vitamin B12. Other toxins include methyl alcohol (moonshine), ethylene glycol (antifreeze), cyanide, lead, and carbon monoxide.
  • Nutritional optic neuropathy may be caused by protein, B vitamins, vitamin B12, in particular, and folic acid deficiencies which result from poor nutrition, starvation, poor absorption or alcoholism. Vitamin B12 deficiency damages the nerves, and drinking alcohol contributes to poor absorption of vitamin B12.
  • Glaucoma Untreated, the increased pressure characteristic of glaucoma may eventually affect the optic nerve.
  • Compressive optic neuropathy results from a tumor or other lesion pressing on the optic nerve or from eye movement muscle enlargement which is seen in hyperthyroidism (Graves' disease) patients.
  • Retinitis pigmentosa is a hereditary ocular disorder resulting in degeneration of the retina.
  • Syphilis, untreated, can also result in damage to the optic nerve.

Conventional Treatment

Unfortunately, there is no effective treatment for optic atrophy. Once the nerve fibers in the optic nerve are lost they never heal or grow back. Therefore, the best defense for optic nerve atrophy is an early diagnosis because if the cause can be found and corrected, further damage can be prevented.

See vitamins & supplements to support the optic nerve


Though there are no specific studies on nutrients and this particular condition, there is extensive research on nutrients such as lutein, zeaxanthin and bilberry among others that have been shown to be essential for the health of the optic nerve. Based on these studies, Dr. Grossman has selected specific nutrients and products to help support the optic nerve and overall eye health. Some of the research on glaucoma may be applicable.

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