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Optic nerve
Optic nerve


Optic nerve atrophy is tissue death of the nerve that carries the information regarding sight from the eye to the brain.

Alternative Names:

Second cranial nerve atrophy

Causes, incidence, and risk factors:

There are many unrelated causes of optic atrophy. The most common cause is poor blood flow, called ischemic optic neuropathy, which most often affects the elderly. The optic nerve can also be damaged by shock, various toxic substances, radiation, and trauma.

Various eye diseases, most commonly glaucoma, can also cause optic nerve atrophy. In addition, the condition can be caused by diseases of the brain and central nervous system, such as cranial arteritis (sometimes called temporal arteritis), multiple sclerosis , brain tumor, and stroke .

There are also several rare forms of hereditary optic nerve atrophy that affect children and young adults.


Optic nerve atrophy causes dimming of vision and reduction of the field of vision. The ability to see fine detail will also be lost. The pupil reaction to light will diminish and may eventually be completely lost.

Signs and tests:

Optic nerve atrophy can be readily detected on complete examination of the eyes. Seeking the cause may require a complete physical examination and specific tests.


Once it has occurred, damage from optic nerve atrophy cannot be reversed. The underlying disease must be found and treated, if possible, to prevent further loss.

Support Groups:

Expectations (prognosis):

Vision lost to optic nerve atrophy cannot be recovered. If the cause can be identified and controlled, further visual loss progressing to blindness may be prevented.


Complications will be related to the disease that causes the atrophy.

Calling your health care provider:

Patients with optic nerve atrophy will be closely monitored by an ophthalmologist with experience in neuro-ophthalmology. Any change in vision should be reported urgently.


Many causes of optic nerve atrophy cannot be prevented. Facial injuries can be prevented by standard safety precautions. Most such injuries are related to motor vehicle accidents and can be prevented by seat belt use.

Methanol is the most common toxin causing optic nerve atrophy. It can be found in home-brewed alcohol. Home-brewed alcohol and forms of alcohol not intended for drinking should never be consumed.

Review Date: 8/22/2008
Reviewed By: Paul B. Griggs, MD, Department of Ophthalmology, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, WA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

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Wentworth-Douglass Hospital
789 Central Avenue, Dover, NH 03820
Phone: (603) 742-5252
Toll free: 1 (877) 201-7100