The optic nerve is a bundle of nerves that carry vision information from the retina to the brain thus optic nerve atrophy is a breakdown of that nerve. Ultimately, the retina can not send the impulses to the brain and this can lead to a loss of central, peripheral, and color vision and potentially blindness if the underlying condition is not addressed. Optic nerve atrophy is not a disease of in of itself, but it is a sign of a more serious condition.
Causes of Optic Nerve Atrophy
The causes of optic neuropathy are numerous. Causes include but are not limited to glaucoma, a stroke of optic nerve (anterior ischemic optic neuropathy), a tumor pressing on the optic nerve, inflammation of the nerve due to multiple sclerosis or other autoimmune conditions, infections, nutritional deficiencies, hereditary conditions, congenital defects, or medications and local radiation treatment.
Diagnosis of Optic Nerve Atrophy
Initially, your eyes will be dilated and inspected with an ophthalmoscope (in instrument) to examine the optic nerve. If optic nerve atrophy is present, the optic nerve will look pale due to a lack of blood flow to the area. Depending on what they expect the cause to be, different tests from there will be used. Often, due to the extensive differential diagnosis, a myriad of exams and laboratory tests will be conducted. This may include the aforementioned vision tests, a MRI of the brain, and blood tests may be considered depending on the likelihood of each of the potential causes.
There is no specific treatment for optic nerve atrophy since it is a sign of another disease. Once the cause is determined, that underlying condition will be addressed. Depending on the condition, vision may return back to normal or continue to progress. During this time, it is important to have regular vision exams conducted in order to monitor changes and if any sudden vision changes occur, to see the ophthalmologist as soon as possible.