The optic nerve carries images of what we see coded as electrical impulses, from the retina to our brain. The optic nerve is like a cable of more than a million tiny electrical wires, or nerve fibers each carrying a part of the visual information. If these nerve fibers become damaged the brain doesn't get all the vision information and our sight becomes blurred. Optic atrophy means the loss of some (resulting in little visual change) or most (resulting in severe visual loss) of the nerve fibers in the optic nerve.
Many diseases and disorders can lead to optic atrophy or damage to one or both optic nerves. Optic atrophy can occur in people where the optic nerve or nerves did not develop properly. It may also result from inflammation of the optic nerve or from glaucoma when the pressure inside the eye remains too high. In unusual cases, poisons, vitamin deficiencies, or tumors may be responsible. Most commonly, optic atrophy simply occurs without a known or proven cause.
- Blurred vision
- Abnormal side vision
- Abnormal color vision
- Poor constriction of the pupil in light
- Decreased brightness in one eye relative to the other
The symptoms described above may not necessarily mean that you have optic atrophy. However, if you experience one or more of these symptoms, contact your eye doctor for a complete exam.
The optic nerve enters the back of the eye where it appears as a small disc, which your ophthalmologist can examine by looking through the pupil of your eye with a special instrument called an ophthalmoscope. If optic atrophy is present, this small disc will appear pale or white, indicating loss of nerve fibers. If you show some of the symptoms listed above, your ophthalmologist may decide to perform additional tests.
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 is an early diagnosis because if the cause can be found and corrected, further damage can be prevented.