Optic atrophy; Optic neuropathy
Optic nerve atrophy is damage to the optic nerve. The optic nerve carries images of what the eye sees to the brain.
There are many causes of optic atrophy. The most common is poor blood flow. This is called ischemic optic neuropathy. The problem most often affects older adults. The optic nerve can also be damaged by shock, toxins, radiation, and trauma.
Eye diseases, such as glaucoma, can also cause a form of optic nerve atrophy. The condition can also be caused by diseases of the brain and central nervous system. These may include:
There are also rare forms of hereditary optic nerve atrophy that affect children and young adults. Sometimes injuries to the face or head may result in optic nerve atrophy.
Optic nerve atrophy causes vision to dim and reduces the field of vision. The ability to see fine detail will also be lost. Colors will seem faded. Over time, the pupil will be less able to react to light, and eventually, its ability to react to light may be lost.
The health care provider will do a complete eye exam to look for the condition. The exam will include tests of:
You may also need a complete physical exam and other tests.
Damage from optic nerve atrophy cannot be reversed. The underlying disease must be found and treated. Otherwise, vision loss will continue.
Rarely, conditions that lead to optic atrophy may be treatable.
Vision lost to optic nerve atrophy cannot be recovered. It is very important to protect the other eye.
People with this condition need to be checked regularly by an eye doctor with experience in nerve-related conditions. Tell your doctor right away about any change in vision.
Many causes of optic nerve atrophy cannot be prevented.
Prevention steps include:
Cioffi GA, Liebmann JM. Diseases of the visual system. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 26th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 395.
Karanjia R, Patel VR, Sadun AA. Hereditary, nutritional, and toxic optic atrophies. In: Yanoff M, Duker JS, eds. Ophthalmology. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2019:chap 9.9.
Prasad S, Balcer LJ. Abnormalities of the optic nerve and retina. In: Daroff RB, Jankovic J, Mazziotta JC, Pomeroy SL, eds. Bradley's Neurology in Clinical Practice. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 17.BACK TO TOP
Review Date: 8/18/2020
Reviewed By: Franklin W. Lusby, MD, ophthalmologist, Lusby Vision Institute, La Jolla, CA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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