Optic Atrophy

What Is Optic Atrophy?

The optic nerve is a bundle of nerve fibers that carry images from your retina to your brain.  Each fiber carries a part of the visual information to the brain. If these nerve fibers become damaged, the brain doesn't receive all of this vision information and sight becomes blurred. Optic atrophy means the loss of some or most of the nerve fibers in the optic nerve. The effects range from visual change to severe visual loss.


  • Blurred vision
  • Abnormal side vision
  • Abnormal color vision
  • Decreased brightness in one eye relative to the other

The symptoms described above may not necessarily mean that you have optic atrophy. However, if you experience one or more of these symptoms, contact your ophthalmologist for a complete exam.


Many diseases and disorders can lead to optic atrophy or damage to the optic nerve. Optic atrophy can occur in cases where the optic nerve did not develop properly. It may also result from inflammation of the optic nerve or from glaucoma when the pressure inside the eye remains too high. In unusual cases, poisons, vitamin deficiencies, or tumors may be responsible. Most commonly, optic atrophy simply occurs without a known or proven cause.

Risk Factors

Risk factors for optic atrophy depend on the underlying cause.

Tests and Diagnosis

A comprehensive eye exam is necessary to determine the cause of optic atrophy. This includes a complete medical history, assessment of visual acuity, color vision, side vision, and pupil reaction.  By looking in the back of your eye with an instrument called the ophthalmoscope, your ophthalmologist may determine that the optic nerve appears pale, indicating a loss of nerve fibers. Additional testing such as MRI of the orbits and brain and blood tests may be necessary.

Treatment and Drugs

Unfortunately, there is no effective treatment for optic atrophy.  Once the nerve fibers in the optic nerve are lost they never heal or grow back. However, early diagnosis and treatment of the underlying causes of optic atrophy can help prevent further damage from the disease.

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Reviewed by Lindsey B. De Lott, M.D.