What Are Optic Nerve Disorders?

Man getting eyes looked at

The optic nerve is largely responsible for carrying visual messages from your eye to your brain. These messages are what ultimately allow you to see and identify images. Naturally, any medical issue or disorder with optic nerves affects your vision. If you allow these problems to continue, they only worsen over time. If left untreated, some optic nerve disorders can lead to blindness.

If you experience blurred vision, redness, pain, flashing light or severe headaches, you should schedule an eye exam. Your eye doctor can perform a comprehensive analysis of your eyes to determine what type of optic nerve disorder you have. Below, we take an in-depth look at common optic nerve disorders.

What Is the Optic Nerve?

The optic nerve carries sensory nerve impulses from the retina’s more than one million ganglion cells to the brain. The majority of optic nerve fibers convey information regarding vision. The optic nerve begins at the optic disc and is located at the back of the eye. The optic disc forms from a collection of ganglion cell fibers as they pass out of the eye.

From the back of the eye, the optic nerve passes through the eye socket and optic canal to the underside of the front of the brain. At this point, the optic nerve from each eye comes together and forms an X-shaped part known as the optic chiasm.

What Is an Optic Nerve Disorder?

Generally speaking, optic nerve disorders occur from medical conditions within the nerve itself. Conditions may include:

  • Diseases
  • Fluid pressure
  • Inflammation
  • Infection
  • Poor blood flow
  • Exposure to toxic substances
  • Protein or calcium buildup

It is important to note that disorders and injuries are not the same thing. Disorders usually occur as a result of medical issues within the eye area. Injuries cause immediate damage and typically require emergency medical attention.

Types of Optic Nerve Disorders

There are various optic nerve disorders that can affect your vision, including

• Coloboma•  Glaucoma
• Hypertension•  Neuromyelitis optica
• Atrophy•  Drusen
• Optic nerve pit•  Neuritis
• Septo-optic dysplasia•  Toxic amblyopia

How Common Are Optic Nerve Disorders?

As you get older, you are likely to experience some form of optic nerve disorder. With all of the different types of disorders that occur, rates vary based on the condition. For instance, glaucoma, a common disorder, occurs in more than three million people annually in the U.S. Other disorders such as coloboma, hypertension, atrophy, drusen and neuritis are also common.

Whether you experience a disorder depends on a range of risk factors such as:

AgeOptic neuritis most often affects adults ages 20 to 40.
Sex/GenderWomen are much more likely to develop certain optic nerve disorders than men.
RaceDisorders occur more often in Caucasians than in any other race.
GeneticsCertain genetic mutations might increase your risk of developing optic neuritis or multiple sclerosis.

Three Types of Vision Loss Caused by Optic Nerve Disorders

Vision Loss in the Affected Eye

The disorder occurs in the affected eye only. The other eye may have perfect vision with no disorder. The disorder can happen in either eye.

Optic Chiasm Damage

The optic chiasm is the brain area where optic nerve fibers coming from one eye intersect with optic nerve fibers from the other eye. If the chiasm is damaged, you experience vision loss in the outer part of both eyes.

Visual Pathway Damage

The visual pathway includes the retina, optic nerves, optic chiasm, optic tracts, lateral geniculate bodies, optic radiations and visual cortex. If any part of the visual pathway is damaged, you lose one side of the visual field in both eyes.

Diagnosis for Optic Nerve Disorders

One way to prevent or minimize the symptoms of optic nerve disorders is to schedule a routine eye exam with your local eye doctor. There are three main eye exams that your doctor can perform to identify and diagnose your condition.

Routine Eye Exam

Your eye doctor will check your vision and your ability to perceive colors and measure your side (peripheral) vision.


During this examination, your doctor shines a bright light into your eye and examines the structures at the back of your eye. This eye test evaluates the optic disc, where the optic nerve enters the retina in your eye. The optic disc becomes swollen in about one-third of people with optic neuritis.

Pupillary Light Reaction Test

Your doctor may move a flashlight in front of your eyes to see how your pupils respond when they're exposed to bright light. If you have optic neuritis, your pupils won't constrict as much as pupils in healthy eyes would when exposed to light.

Schedule an Eye Exam Today

Contact Gulf Coast Vision Center today at one of our Pace, Milton, Crestview or Pensacola locations to schedule a comprehensive eye exam.