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Causes of Optic Nerve Atrophy

written by: AlyssaAst • edited by: dianahardin • updated: 5/24/2011

Optic nerve atrophy occurs when the optic nerve becomes damaged and begins to deteriorate. As a result, vision becomes threatened, if the condition is untreated. Determining the underlying cause of the damage is essential for maintaining sight.

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    The optic nerve is responsible for transmitting impulses from the eye to the brain, allowing vision to be possible. The optic nerve is composed of nerve fibers that relay the information between the eye and the brain. Unfortunately, the optic nerve can become damaged, which can lead to vision loss. Optic nerve atrophy occurs when the optic nerve begins to deteriorate, often resulting in blindness or decreased vision. Optic atrophy occurs when the nerve fibers suffer from an interference when relaying the information. The causes of optic atrophy are numerous, and all of which can lead to permanent vision loss.

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    Causes

    Optic nerve atrophy is often caused by glaucoma, an eye disease that can lead to blindness. Glaucoma occurs when pressure within the eye builds, decreasing vision and leading to optic nerve damage when left untreated. As a result, optic atrophy often occurs.

    Anterior ischemic optic neuropathy (AION) can also cause optic nerve atrophy. AION is a disease of the eye caused by a stroke of the optic nerve, which commonly occurs in the middle-aged and elderly. The stroke causes damage to the optic nerve fibers, which leads to progressive vision loss over a period of time. Depending on the severity of the stroke, damage to the optic nerve can vary.

    Optic neuritis is another cause of optic nerve atropy. This condition occurs when the optic nerve becomes inflamed. If the inflammation continues and the condition is left untreated, optic atrophy is a risk factor. It’s estimated, 10 percent of patients with optic neuritis will suffer permanent vision loss due to optic nerve damage.

    Optic nerve atrophy is also a hereditary condition. As a result, the condition usually occurs in one eye before the other eye becomes affected. In some cases, the optic nerve may have formed improperly, resulting in the condition being present at birth.

    Other causes of optic nerve atrophy include tumors. Tumors of the eye, optic nerve or surrounding areas can cause pressure to build, resulting in damage to the optic nerve. In these cases, restricted blood flow to the eye or optic nerve can lead to the condition.

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    Prognosis

    Depending on the cause of the optic nerve damage, the prognosis can vary. If inflammation or pressure are the underlying cause, once corrected, some vision loss can be restored. If left untreated, though, vision can gradually worsen.

    If glaucoma is the cause of the optic nerve interference, treatment for the glaucoma is essential. When glaucoma is treated early, vision can be maintained for a longer period of time, as the treatment slows damage to the optic nerve.

    If a tumor is the cause, vision can be maintained if the tumor is treated early; however, depending on the size and location of the tumor, vision loss can be permanent.

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