Optic Atrophy: Glasses,
Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, and Treatment Options.
Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, and Treatment Options.
Last updated: June 14, 2022
Optic Atrophy: Glasses,
Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, and Treatment Options.
Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, and Treatment Options.
Last updated: June 14, 2022
The optic nerve is responsible for carrying impulses and visual information from the eye to the brain. Optic atrophy is an eye condition that causes optic nerve damage. Once damaged, the brain is unable to comprehend what the eye is seeing. Atrophy literally means “to waste away or deteriorate.” In simple terms, optical atrophy is the degeneration of the nerve fibers.
Optic atrophy is not categorized as a disease but as a sign of a potentially serious condition. It’s a condition that arises as a result of optic nerve damage from various diseases, be it an eye disease or other medical diseases. The condition can cause problems with vision, which can include blindness as well.
Individuals affected by optic atrophy show a pale optic disc due to nerve damage, while a normal optic disc is yellow and pink. Yet there is no effective cure or treatment for the condition. Eye atrophy (optic atrophy) is mainly dealt with through the management of symptoms. Based on the diseases that lead to the condition, certain medications and therapies may be used, and advanced visual aids, like IrisVision, can help people with the condition experience improvement in sight.
We will go over optic atrophy in depth here to help you understand the condition and its various aspects.
What is Optic Atrophy?
The optic nerve is composed of several nerve fibers that carry a part of the visual information necessary to assist in carrying images from the retina to the brain. If these nerves are damaged, the brain won’t receive all the visual information, and the sight is affected, in most cases becoming blurred. In optic atrophy, some or the majority of the nerve fibers degenerate. The effects of optic nerve atrophy range from visual change to severe vision loss.
Clinically, ‘optic atrophy’ definition means that there is a change in color and structure of the optic disc that is associated with variable degrees of visual dysfunction. This is caused when the axons of the ganglion cells degenerate.
As optic atrophy is an inaccurate term for the optic atrophy definition, a better term would be optic neuropathy. Even this is debatable, as optic neuropathy may not occur in some cases of primary optic atrophy or traumatic brain injury.
Optic atrophy in the eye is regarded as the end stage of a disease process that affects the retinogeniculate portion of the visual pathways.
How Is Visual Information Transmitted?
Light is the source of visual information. The normal structure of the eye is composed of three parts:
- Cornea and lens (the light focusing bit at the front)
- Retina (the light sensitive film at the back of the eye)
- Optic nerve (a collection of communication wires to the brain)
The process of sight begins when the curved window, the cornea, first focuses on the light that passes through the whole, called the pupil. The light focuses on the light sensitive patches, called photoreceptors, covering the back of the eye. These photoreceptors collect visual information. The covering of the photoreceptors forms a thin film known as the retina. These photoreceptors send signals to the fine wires that carry them forward to the brain. These wires, called optic nerves, form a link between the eye and the brain, and carry the visual information to various parts of the brain.
This entire process collects and conveys visual information. To see normally, every part of the brain and eye must function properly.
Optic atrophy in the eye disrupts the entire process of visual information transmission.
Outlook of Optic Nerve In Optic Atrophy
The fine wires are long fibers that make up the optic nerve and are called the axons. An optic nerve is made of approximately 1.2 million axons, originating in the ganglion cell layer of the retina. When these axons leave the eyeball, they are protected by a myelin sheath, and they cannot regenerate if they are injured or damaged.
The optic nerve damage leads to blurry vision and prevents the brain from receiving all the visual information needed to create a clear image.
Optic Atrophy and Optic Neuropathy: Two Terms of the Same Concept or Is It?
Based on the conditions’ underlying symptoms and prognosis, it is considered inaccurate. As atrophy literally means “to waste away,” it has been suggested that optic neuropathy is a much better term. Yet even that has been highly debated.
Optic neuropathy refers to optic nerve damage from any cause, whereas optic atrophy is an end stage condition caused by optic nerve damage anywhere in the visual pathway due to various diseases. As said earlier, if a person suffers from traumatic brain injury or any other form of optic atrophy, optic neuropathy may not even be diagnosed.
Is Optic Atrophy Common?
Optic atrophy of the eye is a condition that prevails in the United States at 0.8%, which is further categorized at 0.4% as visual impairment and 0.12% as blindness. The condition even targets various races differently, with the occurrence being 0.3% in African Americans and 0.5% in Caucasians. Yet, it can occur at any age and for any gender.
Worldwide, optic atrophy of the eye prevails at 3 in 100,000 and is found to be most common among the people of Denmark at 1 in 10,000.
Living with central vision loss, impaired color vision, and peripheral vision loss, all caused by optic atrophy and other diseases, makes daily life difficult. Try IrisVision today and overcome the visual difficulties.
How Is Optic Nerve Atrophy Differentiated from a Healthy Optic Nerve?
The disc-like structure at the back of the eye formed by optic nerves is known as the optic disc. The optic disc is normally yellow and pink in color. However, a person suffering from optic nerve atrophy will have a pale optic disc. This change in color is due to the change in the flow of the blood vessels.
The phenomenon is also referred to as “optic disc pallor,” which is irreversible damage to the retinal ganglion cells and axons. As the axons make up the optic nerve, the damage causes an interference with the visual information transmission to the brain.
Symptoms, Signs, and Risks of Optic Atrophy
Symptoms & Risks
The most common optic atrophy symptoms are related to a change in vision, specifically:
- Blurred vision
- Peripheral vision loss
- Difficulties with color vision
- Reduced sharpness of vision
Optic nerve atrophy symptoms are mainly reduction or loss of vision, which may affect central or peripheral vision, depending on the underlying condition. Subtle nerve damage may lead to contrast or color vision, without much loss of acuity. In some cases of optic neuropathy, one eye may have a lower perception of brightness than the other.
Other symptoms, such as eye pain, weakness, headaches, and movement disorders, may occur, but this is dependent on the underlying disease that causes optic atrophy.
It is necessary to be aware of the associated symptoms, as they may aid in understanding the underlying cause.
- Young patients with a previous history of eye pain, paraesthesia, ataxia, or weakness suggests demyelination.
- Older patients with a previous history of transient visual loss, diplopia, temporal pain, jaw claudication, fatigue, weight loss, and myalgia suggest arteritic ischaemic optic neuropathy due to giant cell arteritis.
- Children’s history of flu-like illness or vaccination could suggest para-infectious or post-vaccinal optic neuritis.
- Multiple cranial neuropathies caused by inflammatory or neoplastic lesions behind the eye may be the cause of diplopia and facial pain.
- Medication history: drugs that can be toxic to the optic nerve (for example, ethambutol, amiodarone, alcohol, methotrexate, ciclosporin).
- Patients with non-arteritic anterior optic neuropathy have a history of diabetes, hypercholesterolemia, and hypertension.
- Patients with known malignancies: may have infiltrative or paraneoplastic optic neuropathy.
- A detailed family history may suggest hereditary autosomal and mitochondrial optic neuropathies.
During the diagnosis of optic atrophy, the following signs are most prevalent:
- If the origin of eye atrophy is glaucomatous, then disc cupping will be present.
- Non-arteritic anterior ischaemic neuropathy may be present in older patients with sector disc pallor.
- Giant cell arteritis can cause severe optic atrophy in an elderly patient.
- There may be residual retinal folds and glistening bodies in the optic nerve head due to papilloedema.
Is There a Cure for Optic Nerve Atrophy? Does it Cause Blindness?
Unfortunately, no effective treatment or cure has been discovered for optic nerve atrophy. Once the nerve fibers in the optic nerve degenerate, they cannot be healed or regrown. The condition causes problems with vision, which may lead to blindness based on its severity. Early detection and treatment of the underlying causes of optic atrophy, on the other hand, can help prevent further damage to the optic nerves.
Causes of Optic Atrophy
Optic atrophy is a visual complication that may occur because of certain eye diseases. Here are some common optic atrophy causes:
As a second leading cause of blindness in the world, glaucoma damages the optic nerve and causes visual disturbances when fluid builds up in the eye. This fluid builds pressure that can permanently affect the vision. Glaucoma is a genetic problem that causes an abnormally high intraocular pressure that in turn leads to a gradual deterioration of the optic nerve. If it goes undiagnosed, rapid degeneration can lead to permanent vision loss.
Anterior Ischemic Optic Neuropathy (AION)
Anterior Ischemic Optic Neuropathy is a condition that causes an interruption in the blood flow to the frontal portion of the optic nerve. This leads to a sudden loss of vision. Vision loss keeps progressing in AION if the optic nerve damage is severe.
Poor blood flow is the most common cause of eye atrophy, and it mostly affects older adults. The vision dims and the field of vision is reduced, limiting the ability to see fine details.
A brain tumor can cause optic nerve damage as pressure is exerted on the optic nerve or certain areas of the brain. Such disturbances lead to blurred vision and double vision.
Optic neuritis is an inflammation of the optic nerve. The causes include infections and immune-related illnesses like multiple sclerosis or lupus, and in some cases, the cause is unknown.
Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease. It attacks the healthy cells in the body, mainly the myelin surrounding the nerves in the brain and spinal cord. The nerve damage causes disruption in the transmission from the brain to other parts of the body and affects the brain, spinal cord, and eyes.
Optic Nerve Atrophy
Optic nerve damage occurs in optic nerve atrophy. The causes of optic nerve damage include poor blood flow to the eye, disease, trauma, or exposure to toxic substances.
Optic Nerve Head Drusen
Optic disc drusen is a form of calcific degeneration in some of the axons of the optic nerve. Pockets of protein and calcium salts build up in the optic nerve over time and can be considered small tumors that develop within the optic nerve head. The condition causes mild peripheral vision loss.
There are several causes of optic atrophy. It is crucial that a person get regular eye checkups at least once a year or if any of the described symptoms of optic atrophy are experienced. Furthermore, these symptoms may help in the diagnosis of other underlying diseases before the condition aggravates.
Diagnosis of Optic Atrophy
What Is Disc Pallor?
Optic disc pallor is the whiteness of the optic disc neuroretinal rim that comes up in an ophthalmoscopy. It indicates the sign of death of the optic nerve axons, caused by lack of blood flow and the absence of small blood vessels in the optic nerves. The optic disc pallor usually appears weeks to months after axons have died in an examination.
Optic disc pallor indicates that optic nerves have been damaged in a variety of disorders and a delayed diagnosis may lead to irreversible blindness.
Prevention of Optic Atrophy
Prevention of optic atrophy in the eye can be done by the reduction of increased fluid pressure around the brain and spinal cord. When optic atrophy is unilateral, the primary prevention is to protect the eye and to wear protective lenses. Magnifiers or tinted lenses may also improve visual function.
To further manage optic atrophy, regular eye exams should be done, especially if there is a history of eye diseases in the family.
TIP: The goal of any treatment for optic atrophy is to slow the progression of nerve damage and preserve remaining vision.
As part of optic atrophy treatment and prevention, high eye pressure must be controlled, which can be done by the following:
- Maintain a healthy diet.
- Exercise daily.
- Limit caffeine.
- Sleep with your head elevated.
- Take medication only when prescribed.
The following methods may be used to halt the progress of optic nerve atrophy:
- Steroid medications through blood vessels
- Plasma exchange
Optic atrophy diagnosis is not an entirely difficult process, as its main characteristic is optic disc pallor. However, diagnosing the cause of optic atrophy may be difficult. In most cases of vision loss, distinguishing between subtle optic neuropathy and retinal disease can be difficult (or both).
If there are signs of optic atrophy, the eyes are examined with an ophthalmoscope. Through this, the optic disc is viewed, where an optic disc pallor is observed due to the change in blood flow in the vessels.
Other tests are performed to measure vision, and peripheral and color vision. The following tests can be performed on patients with unexplained optic atrophy:
- Check for afferent pupils.
- Visual fields of 30-2, color vision
- MRI of the brain and orbit with contrast
- CT with contrast (check for bony disease, sinuses)
- Check blood pressure and cardiovascular health (carotids, etc.). Glucose
- MRI of the brain to view potential causes, like lesions, inflammations, fractures, etc.
- CT scans to check for fractures
Because optic nerve damage cannot be reversed, it is critical that the condition be diagnosed and managed as soon as possible to avoid further progression.
Treatment options for Optic Atrophy
Sadly, optic atrophy treatment or cure isn’t available. But it can be managed through regular eye exams. As optic atrophy is caused by various diseases, finding the underlying disease is the key to treatment to stop the progress.
Advanced Low Vision Assistive Glasses for Optic Atrophy
IrisVision is a leading low vision assistive technology that helps enhance vision for people with visual impairments and legal blindness. Using a high-end camera, clever algorithms, and high-definition screens, it provides the brain with extra visual information to make up for the gaps created by optic atrophy vision loss.
It’s most effective for people suffering from blurry vision, central vision loss, tunnel vision (peripheral vision loss), and more, all prevalent in optic atrophy. Ryan, a blind magician and a YouTube sensation, who suffers from optic nerve atrophy due to a brain tumor called Medulloblastoma, benefitted from IrisVision. It helped him overcome his peripheral vision loss and focus on things more clearly.
Beyond that, IrisVision helped him find joy and confidence in what he does as a magician and allowed him to pursue his other hobbies.
Read more user experiences and reviews here: Customer Stories.
IrisVision Low Vision Aids As Optic Atrophy Treatment
As someone living with legal blindness or a low vision condition, a person may just get to experience the world as far as a handheld magnifying glass. IrisVision’s advanced assistive technology changes everything and opens the world for people with vision loss and legal blindness, both visually and socially.
There are several benefits to choosing IrisVision for the management of vision loss caused by optic atrophy. IrisVision low vision devices are a realistic implementation of the wearable technology concept, harnessing the functional parts of the eye to maximize and magnify the remaining vision to improve visual acuity impaired by optical atrophy.
IrisVision Inspire is a head-mounted, lightweight eyewear designed for all-day wearability. These low-vision glasses are registered with the FDA as class 1 medical device, which allows people with low vision to detect objects and faces easily, counter the effects of poor night vision, and provide color contrast, increasing mobility to achieve daily activities and regaining some independence.
IrisVision houses award winning assistive technology in its low vision devices that drastically enhance vision for people suffering from visual impairment, legal blindness, vision loss, and low acuity caused by various underlying diseases such as optic nerve atrophy, retinal degeneration, or other eye conditions.
Find out more about IrisVision, and you’ll see why it’s the best option for you.
IrisVision seamlessly integrates vision health into daily living and makes it accessible to everyone by targeting and enhancing central vision loss, impaired color vision, blind spots, and more. Try IrisVision Inspire Today.
"Even at school, I use IrisVision every day and it really helps me keep up in my classes. I am able to read everything clearly, especially in Geometry and History"
In optic atrophy, something interferes with the ability of optic nerves to transmit visual information to the brain. Optic nerve atrophy causes can be: a tumor, trauma, decreased blood supply (anterior ischaemic neuropathy) or oxygen supply (hypoxia) causing swelling, hereditary eye conditions, toxins, infection, glaucoma and other rare degenerative disorders.
optic nerve degeneration treatment is currently not available and optic nerve atrophy research is still underway. Therefore, it is important to have regular eye checkups.
There are several causes of optic atrophy and the most common cause is poor blood flow, which is called ischemic optic neuropathy. It mostly affects older adults.
Optic nerve atrophy may lead to blindness and the progression depends on the severity of the condition and the type of underlying disease. For example, during optic neuritis vision loss is usually at its worst within the first two weeks.
Unfortunately there is no effective optic atrophy treatment. Once the optic nerves degenerate, they cannot regrow. However, early diagnosis and management of the symptoms can help prevent further damage.
Optic nerve damage may occur due to eye diseases like glaucoma, ischemic optic neuropathy, trauma, exposure to toxins like lead or carbon monoxide, radiation, or diseases of the central nervous system.
Primary optic atrophy is usually a result of pituitary tumor, optic nerve tumor, traumatic optic neuropathy, or multiple sclerosis. Damage to the anterior visual system can be seen that extends from the retinal ganglion cells to the brain.
- Primary optic atrophy
- Secondary optic atrophy
- Consecutive optic atrophy
- Glaucomatous optic atrophy
- Ascending optic atrophy
- Retrograde optic atrophy
- Partial optic atrophy
- Total optic atrophy
In case optic nerve atrophy is suspected, the optometrist can check the back of the eye where the nerves enter, using an instrument called ophthalmoscope. Upon examination, the optic disc can be seen that is pale in color.
The eye atrophy condition causes vision loss, including blindness. Depending on the underlying disease, the damage may progress to the worst. However, if identified during an early stage, symptoms of optic atrophy can be managed.
Regardless of the age and gender, anyone can be affected by optic nerve atrophy due to various underlying diseases.
Optic nerve atrophy is caused by mild to severe optic nerve damage, which may affect central vision, peripheral vision and color vision. During optic atrophy diagnosis, the optic disc, where the optic nerves coincide, will be pale due to the change in blood vessels flow.
Hereditary optic neuropathies include dominant optic atrophy and Leber hereditary optic neuropathy. These disorders typically display signs during childhood or adolescence, where bilateral and symmetric central vision loss may be experienced. Optic nerve damage is usually permanent and can be progressive. By the time optic atrophy is diagnosed, optic nerve injury may have already occurred.
People with optic atrophy type 1 experience progressive vision loss. However, in other cases, only mild vision loss is experienced, and for some vision loss doesn’t progress further.
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