Optic Nerve Damage: Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

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  • 0:04 Optic Nerve Damage Example
  • 0:28 Optic Nerve Definition
  • 1:23 Optic Nerve Damage…
  • 3:44 Optic Nerve Damage Treatment
  • 5:04 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Ashli Wilson

Ashli has a Master's Degree in Biology and has taught biology at different grade levels including college, elementary, and middle school.

In this lesson, we will use a real-life scenario to understand optic nerve damage. Also, we will learn about the causes, symptoms, and treatments of optic nerve damage.

Optic Nerve Damage Example

Kelly is experiencing vision distortion and dimness of vision. She goes to the ophthalmologist and finds out that optic nerve damage is likely causing her vision problems. The doctor plans for Kelly to undergo tests to determine the underlying cause of her optic nerve damage.

Before we discuss the possible causes of damage to Kelly's optic nerve, let's learn about this important part of the body.

Optic Nerve Definition

Vision involves many different parts of the eye, but two of the most important are the retina and the optic nerve. The images we see are created by the retina, and the optic nerve is responsible for sending the image from the retina to the brain for interpretation. You can think of the images we see as mail and the optic nerve as a mail carrier. The retina is the sender of the mail, and the optic nerve transmits the mail to the brain.

Another important part of the body involved in transmitting the images we see is myelin. Myelin is found on nerves in the body and helps to quickly transmit signals to the brain. You can think of myelin in the same way we think of copper being used to conduct electricity. Copper is a good conductor and helps move electricity from one place to another. Myelin does the same thing; it helps to transmit or conduct signals quickly to the brain.

Now let's discuss optic nerve damage.

Optic Nerve Damage Causes/Symptoms

Kelly has optic nerve damage, or optic nerve atrophy, that can be caused by trauma or diseases such as glaucoma and multiple sclerosis (MS). Let's take a closer look at these issues and their symptoms in order to determine the cause of Kelly's optic nerve damage.

Trauma to the optic nerve can be caused by falls, car accidents, sports injuries, or being punched or kicked in the eye. Trauma in close proximity to the optic nerve can also cause problems. Optic nerve damage caused by trauma is typified by decreased vision and vision loss that usually occurs three to six weeks after the trauma occurred. Kelly hasn't sustained any trauma to her head in the last six months, so it's pretty unlikely that trauma is the cause for damage. Next, let's discuss glaucoma.

Glaucoma is a group of eye conditions that is characterized by the buildup of fluid in the eye. This additional fluid in the eye causes increased internal eye pressure that damages the optic nerve. Symptoms of glaucoma are not present in the early stages because damage occurs slowly and gradually. In the later stages of glaucoma, however, the symptoms include loss of peripheral vision, eye pain, and blurred vision. Kelly doesn't have loss of peripheral vision, eye pain, or blurred vision, so glaucoma is probably not the culprit. Last, let's learn about multiple sclerosis.

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune disease. Autoimmune diseases are characterized by the immune system attacking healthy tissues in the body. MS causes the immune system to attack the myelin on the nerves, resulting in a decreased speed at which nerve impulses are transmitted. When MS attacks the optic nerve, it slows down the speed at which an image reaches the brain, resulting in vision distortion and vision loss.

Symptoms of MS include decreased vision and vision distortion, with up to 50% of MS patients reporting vision problems. Other symptoms of MS are numbness and tingling in limbs, dizziness, and slurred speech. Since symptoms of MS include vision distortion and dimness of vision, MS is likely the cause of Kelly's issues.

Now that we've determined that Kelly's symptoms are likely caused by MS, let's discuss the treatment options for each condition.

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