Brain Awareness Week is March 12-18, 2018, a time when the National Eye Institute focuses on brain neuropathy and how it impacts vision—because without the complex function of our brains working in conjunction with our eyes, we couldn’t see.
The optic nerve is the pathway that relays all visual information from the retina to your brain, including brightness, color and contrast so that we can make sense of our world visually.
When something goes wrong with the optic nerve, our vision is impacted. The term “optic neuropathy” is what we call damage to the optic nerve that affects our visual system. Nerve cells are very delicate and can be injured in a lot of different ways. Unfortunately, nerve cells don’t typically regenerate once they are significantly damaged, which means vision loss from optic neuropathy could be permanent.
Optic neuropathy has various causes, each with different symptoms. For example, sometimes visual loss is very gradual, other times a patient wakes up one day and suddenly can’t see. Sometimes it impacts color vision, where colors start to seem less bright or washed out. Sometimes it presents inconsistently, with vision problems coming and going. Sometimes it affects just one eye, or sometimes both. If you experience a change in vision, your eye doctor will ask you a series of questions to help to pinpoint the cause during your comprehensive eye exam.
The three most common causes of optic neuropathy, or damage to the optic nerve that causes visual impairment, are:
In all of these cases, early detection is key: Immediate treatment may help prevent further vision loss.
There are also genetic or congenital causes for optic neuropathy, which are rare but still a factor for some patients:
In summary, if you experience vision loss, eye pain or if you notice that colors seem washed out, you may be suffering from optic neuropathy. If your vision goes dark for a few moments and then returns, you may be experiencing the earliest stages of optic neuropathy.
Always call your optometrist immediately if you notice a sudden change in your vision, as early diagnosis can sometimes mean the difference between temporary and permanent vision loss.