What causes optic nerve damage?

Vision distortion and other problems with vision that are symptoms of optic nerve damage may be mild when they first begin. Despite this, optic nerve damage is a critical neurological condition that is caused by a serious underlying disease or condition.

Problems with blood vessels that can cause optic nerve damage

Certain types of diseases or conditions of blood vessels can cause optic nerve damage including:

  • Anterior ischemic optic neuropathy (stroke of the eye caused by diminished blood flow to the arteries that supply blood to the optic nerve)

  • Blood clot that obstructs an artery that supplies blood to the optic nerve

  • Cerebral aneurysm (life-threatening bulging and weakening of the wall of an artery that can burst and cause severe hemorrhage)

  • Stroke

  • Subarachnoid hemorrhage (type of bleeding around the brain)

  • Temporal arteritis or giant cell arteritis (inflammation of blood vessels in the head)

Cancer and tumors that can cause optic nerve damage

Certain types of cancer and tumors can cause optic nerve damage including:

  • Choroidal melanoma (type of eye cancer)
  • Circumpapillary metastasis with optic neuropathy (cancer in another part of the body that spreads to the eye and affects the optic nerve)
  • Optic glioma (type of brain tumor that can affect the optic nerve)
  • Optic nerve melanocytoma (tumor of the optic nerve that is usually noncancerous)
  • Optic nerve sheath meningioma (tumor of the sheath that covers the optic nerve)
  • Orbital tumors that press on the optic nerve (benign and malignant)

Other causes of optic nerve damage

A variety of other underlying diseases, disorders and conditions can cause optic nerve damage including:]

  • Alcohol abuse during pregnancy (damages the optic nerve of the developing fetus)
  • Autoimmune disorders, including multiple sclerosis, systemic lupus erythematosus, and sarcoidosis
  • Exposure to toxic substances, such as arsenic, lead, thallium, methyl alcohol (methanol or wood alcohol), and tobacco
  • Glaucoma (condition in which fluid pressure builds up in the eye, including narrow angle glaucoma and acute angle glaucoma)
  • Graves’ disease (type of hyperthyroidism resulting in excessive thyroid hormone production)
  • Head or eye trauma
  • Hereditary or developmental anomalies, such as the failure of the optic nerve to develop normally
  • Infections, such as Lyme disease, viral encephalitis, herpes, measles, rubella, and chickenpox
  • Medications (see below)
  • Optic neuritis (inflammation of the optic nerve)

Medications that can cause optic nerve damage

Drugs implicated in causing optic nerve damage include:

  • Amiodarone (Cordarone)

  • Cancer chemotherapies

  • Digoxin (Lanoxin)

  • Disulfiram (Antabuse)

  • Ethambutol (Myambutol)

  • Isoniazid (Nydrazid or INH)

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS)

  • PDE-5 inhibitors, such as sildenafil (Viagra), tadalafil (Cialis), and vardenafil (Levitra)

This is not a complete list of medications that are implicated in causing optic nerve problems. Always discuss your complete medication history with your healthcare provider.

What are the potential complications of optic nerve damage?

Complications associated with damage to the optic nerve are serious. You can minimize the risk of serious complications by following the treatment plan you and your healthcare professional design specifically for you. Complications of optic nerve damage include:

  • Brain damage from encephalitis, brain tumor, or hemorrhage

  • Decreased quality of vision

  • Disability

  • Permanent blindness

  • Poor quality of life


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  2. Conditions List. Eyecancernetwork. http://www.eyecancer.com/Patient/ConditionList.aspx.
  3. Developmental changes in the optic nerve related to ethanol consumption in pregnant rats: analysis of the ethanol-exposed optic nerve. PubMed.gov. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8278930.
  4. Eye Cancer. American Cancer Society. http://www.cancer.org/cancer/eyecancer/index.
  5. Optic neuropathy in systemic lupus erythematosus and antiphospholipid syndrome (APS): clinical features, pathogenesis, review of the literature and proposed ophthalmological criteria for APS diagnosis. PubMed.gov. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10357117.
  6. Vision problems.  Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003029.htm.
  7. What is Glaucoma? American Academy of Ophthalmology. http://www.geteyesmart.org/eyesmart/diseases/glaucoma.cfm.
  8. Drug-Induced Optic Neuropathy. U.S. Pharmacist. http://www.uspharmacist.com/content/d/health_systems/c/27859/.

What is optic nerve damage?

Optic nerve damage is any kind of injury or damage to the optic nerve, including trauma, inflammation, disease or deterioration. Optic nerve damage is also called optic nerve atrophy or optic neuropathy. The optic nerve is the nerve that connects and transmits information between the eye and the brain. Optic nerve damage can lead to vision distortion, vision loss, and blindness.

W... Read more about optic nerve damageintroduction


What symptoms might occur with optic nerve damage?

Common symptoms of optic nerve damage include vision distortion, loss of vision, eye redness, and pain when moving the eye. These symptoms may also be present with a variety of other eye conditions, so a proper diagnosis by a qualified medical professional is needed.

In some cases, there may not be any symptoms of optic nerve damage or the conditions that can lead to optic nerve d... Read more about optic nerve damagesymptoms

Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Annual Review Date: Sep 20, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2014 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Eyes and Vision, Brain and Nerves

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