Optic Neuritis And Autoimmune Disorders


Optic neuritis is an acute inflammatory demyelinating disorder of the optic nerve.1 The optic nerve is crucial in sending information to the brain about what we are seeing. Optic neuritis is caused by the immune system becoming ‘misprogrammed’, resulting in immune cells attacking the healthy myelin that covers the optic nerve.

Optic neuritis is often associated with various autoimmune disorders. Autoimmune disorders are conditions arising from an abnormal immune response to a functioning body part. 


It is thought that there are multiple causes of optic neuritis, including: 

Sometimes, optic neuritis seemingly occurs with no prior warning or ‘trigger’ event.2


Optic neuritis can cause issues with one or both eyes. The symptoms vary between each patient; they include:2

  • Blurred vision
  • Pain when moving the eye
  • Loss of colour vision, or even complete loss of vision 


Diagnosis involves an eye specialist examining the eye and conducting specific eye tests. It is also common for scans, MRI, optical coherence tomography (OCT), and cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) examinations to be done.3


In order to reduce the inflammation around the optic nerves, steroids will be given. These steroids can be given either orally or directly into the vein via infusion. The steroids will shorten the duration of symptoms; however, they do not improve the long-term outcome of optic neuritis.3

Link between optic neuritis and autoimmune disorders

Multiple sclerosis 

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a demyelinating autoimmune condition that affects the central nervous system, causing a wide range of symptoms, including problems with vision, arm and leg movement, sensation and balance.  MS is one of the autoimmune disorders commonly associated with optic neuritis. Optic neuritis is considered an initial attack of MS. Approximately 20% of those with MS initially present with optic neuritis, and around 50% of MS patients have optic neuritis that occurs during the progression of the disease.1

Neuromyelitis optica spectrum disorder (NMOSD)

Neuromyelitis optica spectrum disorder (NMOSD) is another autoimmune disorder typically associated with optic neuritis. NMOSD is a demyelinating disease associated with recurrent episodes of optic neuritis and transverse myelitis, often resulting in permanent blindness and/or paralysis.4

Other autoimmune disorders associated with optic neuritis

Optic neuritis is not only associated with MS and NMOSD but can occur with many other autoimmune disorders. Two other autoimmune diseases that optic neuritis has been strongly linked to are lupus and Sjögren's syndrome.5

Prevention of optic neuritis in autoimmune disorders

Although there is no cure for autoimmune disorders, symptoms can be managed, and early intervention is crucial for the treatment and recovery of optic neuritis and any underlying autoimmune disorder. Any ocular pain or change in vision should be assessed by a medical professional as soon as possible to identify an autoimmune disease such as optic neuritis and treat the symptoms to slow down the progression of any such disease. Eye health should be taken seriously, and regular appointments with an ophthalmologist should be made to identify early signs of disease. 

Lifestyle changes will have to be implemented to manage an autoimmune disorder, but with the right treatment and support, the individual can live a long, healthy life. Exercise, eating healthily, not smoking and taking care of your health to prevent illnesses such as the flu have been shown to be beneficial in the management of autoimmune conditions such as MS.  

Lack of vitamin D has also been identified as a risk factor for autoimmune disease, so adequate intake of vitamin D may help prevent autoimmune disease.6 

Regular follow-up appointments with a healthcare provider are important in the management of any autoimmune condition to ensure any treatment plan that is implemented is working for the individual.


Optic neuritis is an acute inflammatory demyelinating disorder of the optic nerve associated with autoimmune disorders including, but not limited to, multiple sclerosis, neuromyelitis optica spectrum disorder, lupus and Sjögren's syndrome. Optic neuritis is often an early sign of an autoimmune disease, so any changes in vision or ocular pain should be checked out by a medical professional as soon as possible. There is no cure for autoimmune disorders, but the symptoms of the disorder can be managed to help the individual live a long and healthy life. 


  1. Kale N. Optic neuritis as an early sign of multiple sclerosis. Eye and brain [Internet]. 2016 Oct 26 [cited 2023 Apr 14];8:195-202. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5398757/
  2. Bennett JL. Optic neuritis. Continuum (Minneapolis, Minn.) [Internet]. 2019 Oct [cited 2023 Apr 14];25(5):1236-64. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31584536/
  3. Toosy AT, Mason DF, Miller DH. Optic neuritis. The Lancet Neurology [Internet]. 2014 Jan 1 [cited 2023 Apr 14];13(1):83-99. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24331795/
  4. Levin MH, Bennett JL, Verkman AS. Optic neuritis in neuromyelitis optica. Progress in retinal and eye research. 2013 Sep 1 [cited 2023 Apr 14];36:159-71. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23545439/
  5. Abel A, McClelland C, Lee MS. Critical review: typical and atypical optic neuritis. Survey of ophthalmology. 2019 Nov 1 [cited 2023 Apr 14];64(6):770-9. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31229520/
  6. Murdaca G, Tonacci A, Negrini S, Greco M, Borro M, Puppo F, Gangemi S. Emerging role of vitamin D in autoimmune diseases: An update on evidence and therapeutic implications. Autoimmunity reviews. 2019 Sep 1 [cited 2023 Apr 14];18(9):102350. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31323357/
This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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Amy Louise Bowler

Current Master of Science student – MSc Clinical Neuroscience at University College London (UCL)

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