Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a disease of the central nervous system. It affects the brain, optic nerves, and spinal cord, which is why vision problems are often the first symptom of the disease. Inflammation — where parts of the body become reddened, swollen, and painful — is the main issue with MS, as it causes damage to the nerves. MS is characterized by flare-ups of inflammation that typically go away after some time or will need to be treated with steroids. (For more information please see the Multiple Sclerosis Association of America’s website.) Stress, fatigue, infection, and elevated temperature can all affect vision in people with MS, so reducing those factors is an important part of managing the disease.
How MS Affects Vision
The most common symptom is optic neuritis, which is an inflammation of the optic nerve. According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, most times, it happens in one eye only. The good news is, it usually goes away on its own after a couple of weeks or more and vision returns to normal. Here’s what optic neuritis looks like:
- Pain with eye movement.
- Blurred vision.
- Dimmed vision.
- Loss of being able to see colors accurately.
- Difficulty seeing at night.
In some cases of blurred and/or dimmed vision, the center of the visual field can be blocked out. Side, or peripheral vision, usually isn’t affected. This is called central scotoma.
Another common symptom is called diplopia, or double vision. This occurs due to nerve damage or inflammation as well. Diplopia may resolve on its own. If not, using an eye patch can help to retrain the affected eye. As with many symptoms of MS, a course of corticosteroids may be helpful in relieving the symptoms.
Not as common, nystagmus — also known as “dancing eyes” — is caused by muscle weakness. It is an involuntary rapid eye movement to where eyes may go from side-to-side or up-and-down rapidly. Mild cases may not cause any change in vision, but severe cases will affect vision to where things don’t seem to stay still. Treatment is usually to wait and see if it resolves on its own as the overall MS symptoms resolve, and again, steroids may be necessary to help with the symptoms.
If you have any concerns about your vision, or suspect you may have MS, please consult with your health care provider and eye-care provider for an accurate diagnosis.