What are MS vision problems?
Vision problems (or visual disorders) are a common symptom of Multiple Sclerosis (MS) because of the effects the disease has on the central nervous system (CNS). The process of demyelination, or the loss of myelin (the substance that surrounds the nerves), which is the underlying cause of MS, is what impedes many of the normal functions of the nervous system. As a result, in some people with Multiple Sclerosis , their vision may deteriorate.
The main visual disturbances seen with MS are a result of effects on the optic nerve (which sends visual signals from the eye to the brain) and/or the functioning of the muscles that control eye movement.
The most common types of MS vision problems are:
- Optic neuritis caused by inflammation of the optic nerve, which is in charge of transmitting information captured by our eyes to the brain to create vision.
- The main problems resulting from damage to this nerve are blurred vision, temporary vision loss and difficulty seeing colors correctly, among others.
- These visual symptoms tend to appear as outbreaks (new and abrupt changes or neurological symptoms lasting more than 24 hours, or a clear worsening of the patient) and, after a few weeks, vision returns to normal. However, in a few cases, these injuries can result in long-term damage.
- Temporary blindness: During severe MS episodes or symptom outbreaks, temporary blindness may occur. In these cases, this increased severity can result in temporary blindness caused by acute inflammation of the optic nerve. Generally though, this is a transitory state that abates with the passage of time.
- Changes in the eye muscles: Double vision (referred to medically as diplopia) occurs when the muscles that control eye movement are affected. Because of weakness or a lack of coordination of the eye muscles caused by MS, some people may see double images. In these cases, covering one of the two eyes makes the double vision disappear, which can serve as a temporary solution. At any rate, as with the other types of changes in the eye, double vision generally disappears on its own.
- Involuntary eye movements: Some people may suffer from involuntary rhythmic eye movements, a phenomenon known as nystagmus. In general, this condition does not cause changes in vision, which is why it is classified as asymptomatic (no symptoms).
The most common MS vision symptoms are:
- Blurred vision
- Pain with eye movement
- Difficulty distinguishing colors
- Double vision
- Vision loss
In any case, it is unusual for any of these conditions to become permanent, just as complete blindness is unlikely to occur.
Why do MS vision symptoms occur?
As with all symptoms associated with MS, eye problems are the result of the progressive degradation of myelin and the nerve fibers. It disrupts the transmission of visual signals from the eye to the brain (optic nerve) as well as the signals in the nerves that control eye movement. As a result, the functioning of the central nervous system (CNS), which includes the brain, cerebellum and spinal cord, which is responsible for regulating the normal functions of the eye, becomes uncoordinated.
Multiple Sclerosis visual symptoms
Most MS eye problems caused by MS Multiple Sclerosis are temporary and do not require any special treatment.
Even so, in some cases a doctor may prescribe treatment with steroids (also called corticoids), medications with potent anti-inflammatory effects, to reduce the duration of the episodes (visual disturbances) and their severity.
Sometimes, the use of corrective lenses (glasses, basically) may be enough to correct the vision problems.
1.US National Multiple Sclerosis Society, MS symptoms: http://www.nationalmssociety.org/Symptoms-Diagnosis/MS-Symptoms
2.Drs. M. Murie and E. Moral (2011): Espasticidad en Esclerosis Múltiple, ISBN: 978-84-15198-27-7, Luzán 5, S.A., Madrid, Spain
This general information is not intended to diagnose any medical condition or to replace your healthcare professional.
You should consult with your health care professional for specific advice relating to your medical questions or condition. Only your practitioner can completely and appropriately assess your situation and make conclusive decisions regarding your care.