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Injuries to the Optic Nerve

written by: AlyssaAst • edited by: dianahardin • updated: 5/27/2011

Injuries to the optic nerve can result from a number of factors. These injuries can be caused by direct or indirect contact to the optic nerve. In all cases, treatment is essential, because permanent vision loss can occur.

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    Traumatic optic neuropathy refers to injuries that occur to the optic nerve. When injuries to the optic nerve occur, many complications with vision often result, including blurred vision, visual field defects and difficulty seeing colors. These complications occur because the optic nerve is responsible for transmitting information from the eye to the brain, making vision possible. When an injury occurs anywhere on the optic nerve, the transmissions from the eye to the brain becomes interrupted. In some cases, damage to the optic nerve fibers can be permanent, which can result in permanent vision loss and blindness.

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    Causes

    Traumatic optic neuropathy can be caused by a number of factors. Any injury that occurs to the eye socket or head can lead to an injury of the optic nerve. Common causes of these injuries are motor vehicle accidents, falls and sports collisions. Assault can cause this type of injury, as well. In some cases, the injury can result from a surgical complication, which can involve the brain, sinuses or eye socket.

    In some cases, the optic nerve can be fully severed, but in other cases it may just be severely damaged. The optic nerve may be damaged as a result of a direct injury to the nerve, such as with a stab or bullet wound, or an indirect injury, when an object hits the head and causes the nerve to swell and lose blood flow, such a a fall, punch or motor vehicle accident.

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    Symptoms

    Despite the cause of the optic nerve injury, symptoms rarely vary. With any optic nerve injury, vision gradually worsens over a period of several days. Many lose the ability to see colors, and light often appears dimmer in one or both eyes. Certain areas of vision can begin to fail. With some injuries, there can be pain and swelling of the eye socket, which is common with indirect injuries. Double vision may also occur.

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    Treatment Options

    Depending on the type of injury that occurs and the severity of the injury, different treatment options are available. Optic nerve injuries caused by pressure are treated by relieving the pressure, usually with surgical procedures. After the pressure is resolved, vision can often be restored. High dose steroid therapy may be used to treat traumatic injuries.

    The prognosis for those who have suffered an injury varies, as well. Some regain vision after the injury is treated. In other cases, if the injury is severe or the optic nerve has been greatly damaged or even severed, permanent vision loss or decreased vision can result. If any changes occur with vision, seek medical attention immediately. Early treatment of an optic nerve injury is essential for the overall prognosis of the condition.

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    References

    "Traumatic Optic Neuropathy," http://www.summitmedicalgroup.com/library/eye_health/optic_neuropathy/.

    "Treatment of Traumatic Optic Neuropathy," http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/501762_6.