The Impact of Multiple Sclerosis on Vision

Recognizing World MS Day, May 25, 2011

MS disabled woman with children

It’s a stunning statistic: 400,000 Americans have been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Commonly diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 40, and twice as prevalent in women, the disease usually attacks the nerve fibers in the eyes, brain and spinal cord. Most individuals with MS feel good for a period of time, followed by flare-ups that can be mild or debilitating, with the disease gradually progressing.

Although medical researchers have not identified a specific cause for MS, they believe that individuals diagnosed with the disease may have been exposed earlier in life to a virus or other unknown substance that causes their immune systems to attack other body tissues. Individuals with low levels of vitamin D also may be more likely to develop MS.

Vision Problems

According to the Multiple Sclerosis Society, approximately 55 percent of individuals with MS initially experience visual symptoms due to optic neuritis, an inflammation of the optic nerve that affects the transmission of light and visual images to the brain. Usually only one eye is affected, but if the problem recurs, it could impact the either eye.

Individuals with MS often experience one or more of these vision problems:

  • Temporary blindness
  • Eye pain
  • Blurred or double vision
  • Uncontrolled eye movement

Treatment Options

While these eye problems can last four to 12 weeks, vision usually returns to normal. Unfortunately after the condition has passed, some individuals notice reduced color vision and blurring, which may be permanent. If patients have mild symptoms of optic neuritis, doctors often defer treatment, but they usually prescribe corticosteroid medications for those with more severe conditions to reduce nerve inflammation.

MS symptoms vary among individuals, making it difficult for doctors to isolate the exact cause and make a specific diagnosis. Since the eyes are often affected first by the disease, it is important to schedule regular, comprehensive eye exams in order to detect any changes or problems with your vision.

If you, or someone you know, have been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, what were the early signs of the disease? – Ken VanCleave, Ameritas Group