Living with optic neuritis

Being diagnosed with optic neuritis can be a worrying time. Your sight can become blurred or faded, and you might feel some eye pain and discomfort at first.

However, the condition is usually short-lived, and most people's vision improves as they recover (Source: Ophthalmology).

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Managing your optic neuritis

There's good evidence that most people begin to recover within two weeks of first developing optic neuritis (Source: Ophthalmology). The optic nerve can heal without treatment, and in most cases, recovery happens within six to 12 months.

Steroid medication can help accelerate recovery but won't affect the long-term outcome. Some people can also experience unpleasant side effects of steroids. For these reasons, steroids are used in exceptional circumstances, such as for people who cannot work until their symptoms improve.

You should have follow-up appointments and eye exams with your eye doctor while you recover so that they can monitor your vision and check for optic nerve damage. After around 12 months, your optician will be able to determine if your optic neuritis has caused any long-term loss of vision.

During the first few days of symptoms, eye pain which worsens with eye movement can be an issue. Over-the-counter medicine such as paracetamol and ibuprofen can relieve the pain, and this symptom tends to subside quite quickly.

Optic neuritis and driving

Optic neuritis can affect your sight, causing blurred vision and making objects appear faded. For that reason, you may not be able to drive until the symptoms clear up, which usually takes a few weeks but can be longer.

Optic neuritis can reoccur, so look out for the symptoms and don't drive if you're experiencing poor vision.

You must inform the DVLA if you have optic neuritis and shouldn't drive unless you can meet their minimum required standards of vision. Ask your ophthalmologist if you have any questions about driving and optic neuritis.

Living independently with optic neuritis

Your optic nerve can begin to heal within just weeks, but it can take up to 12 months to recover. This means you may spend some time living with optic neuritis and experiencing problems with your eyesight.

While most people recover without lasting impact on their vision, some will experience ongoing problems after optic neuritis. Your optic nerve may show some damage, known as 'optic atrophy'. This doesn't always cause symptoms but can lead to:

  • Reduced ability to differentiate between colours, with things looking faded
  • Difficulty with judging depths and distances

There are lots of accessible aids and tips to help you cope with changes to your vision:

Adjusting to a change in your vision can take time, and you might find it helpful to talk to other people who've been through similar experiences. 

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Reviewed in March 2022


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