Optic Neuritis (swollen optic nerve)
Optic neuritis is a condition involving an inflamed or swollen optic nerve which is the pathway for information transferred from your retina to your brain, where the information is interpreted. The optic nerve is a collection of tiny nerve fibers performing this function, with each individual fiber carrying one part of the information to be perceived. If any or all of these fibers are swollen and do not work correctly vision is blurred. When the condition occurs in only one eye it is called mono optic neuritis.
The optic nerve is surrounded by a protective fatty layer of myelin which insulates it from the tissue around it, and helps the impulses of energy travel more quickly along the nerve. If this outer protection is degraded or damaged, then the nerve can become swollen and inflammed.
Swelling and inflammation can occur at various locations along the optic nerve which are tied to whether the condition is of short duration or more serious. Such identification can be determined by an optic MRI.
Who's at Risk?
Optic neuritis usually occurs in people under age 45, and more often in women. However it can happen to people of any age, especially if they suffer from an autoimmune condition such as rheumatoid arthritis, or have diabetes.
Optic neuritis may be a symptom of multiple sclerosis which also involves nerve inflammation.
These are the most common problems associated with optic nerve swelling, although they don't mean that you necessarily have optic neuritis.
- Tender, sore eye
- Pain behind the eye when the eye moves (this is true for 90%+ of patients)
- Enlarged central blind spot or mild to severe reduction in central vision
- Dim, dull vision (as if lights are low)
- Decreased or blurred vision at least one eye (especially after exercising or after a hot bath)
- Decreased peripheral vision
- Decreased color perception
If you experience one or more of the above symptoms, call your ophthamologist for a thorough exam.
Optic neuritis usually begins when the body's immune system attacks the optic nerve's myelin covering and the result is a swollen optic nerve, at the nerve ending at the eyeball or somewhere along the length of the optic nerve as it continues to the brain. The swollen optic nerve may be caused or triggered by:
- Autoimmune conditions such as lupis, HIV, Behcet's disease, or sarcoidosis
- Inflammatory conditions like multiple sclerosis. Any condition that causes some of the protecting myelin layer of the nerve to be degraded or destroyed may be the cause. It is common for patients to experience optic neuritis episodes before being diagnosed with MS. In fact, optic neuritis is often an early indicator of MS.
- Viral infections such as colds, measles, mumps, chickenpox, rubella, hepatitis B, herpes, or mononucleosis
- Fungal infections such as cryptococcosis
- Bacterial infections such as cat scratch fever, syphilis, or Lyme disease
- Parasitic diseases such as toxoplasmosis
- Chemical poisoning (also see drugs that harm the eyes)
- Other conditions such as allergies, poor digestion, diabetes or poor circulation
In our opinion, an enlarged optic nerve condition may be a symptom of chronic systemic inflammation in the body including autoimmune problems, allergies or even inflammation due to poor digestion.
From a Chinese medical perspective, optic nerve swelling is often due to "stuck" Qi or energy, which can be related to poor flow of circulation, fluids, energy (and resulting nutrient deficiency) to the optic nerve, as well as heat generated in meridians such as Stomach heat due to digestive disorders. Liver (meridian) imbalances can also lead to digestive disorders as well.
In Chinese medicine, the Liver "opens to the eyes", and therefore is the primary flow of energy responsible for healthy vision. Liver imbalances resulting in "Excess Liver Heat" can result in eye inflammatory conditions (as well as glaucoma).
Most patients find that normal vision returns without any special treatment. For those with severe vision loss, treatment with intravenous corticosteroids in high doses sometimes speeds up recovery. A swollen optic nerve usually improves over several days to weeks, but may take months for complete restoration of normal vision.
After the Optic Neuritis Treatment Trial in 1992, doctors determined that treatment with intravenous steroid drugs (not the oral steroids) reduces the risk of later developing MS - an important connection because about half of people who suffer an an initial episode of optic neuritis will develop MS. While this process has little effect on vision, it appears to be very important for health overall.
By using a special kind of MRI for the brain, doctors are now able to pinpoint exactly where the inflammation lesions are located - in the eye cavity, in the optic nerve canal, where the optic nerves cross each other, or further out toward the skull. This ability makes prognosis more accurate. Swelling and inflammation that is not located in or close to the cavity of the eye socket is less serious and more likely to result in recovery in a relatively short period of time.
There are a number of conditions that have been linked to optic neuritis. For example, "mono optic neuritis." Researchers have reported cases of very severe optic neuritis in patients with infectious mononucleosis. Optic neuritis may be a corollary condition to other common viral infections such as measles, mumps, herpes and chickenpox. Respiratory conditions including some kinds of pneumonia, some fungal infections, and conditions involving the immune system, such as lupus and sarcoidosis may be accompanied by optic swelling / neuritis resulting in loss of vision.
Though there are no specific studies on nutrients and this particular condition, there is extensive research on nutrients such as taurine, alpha lipoic acid, bilberry, vitamin B12, Omega-3 Fatty acids, and more as helping support 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.