Health A-Z

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What Is It?

Retrobulbar neuritis is a form of optic neuritis in which the optic nerve, which is at the back of the eye, becomes inflamed. The inflamed area is between the back of the eye and the brain. The optic nerve contains fibers that carry visual information from the nerve cells in the retina to the nerve cells in the brain. When these fibers become inflamed, visual signaling to the brain becomes disrupted, and vision is impaired.

Retrobulbar neuritis can be caused by a variety of conditions, including:

  • Infections such as meningitis, syphilis, and various viral illnesses

  • Multiple sclerosis

  • Tumors

  • Exposure to certain chemicals or drugs

  • Allergic reactions

However, in many cases, the cause is unknown. Vision loss can be minimal or the disease can result in complete blindness.

The average age of people who develop optic neuritis is 32. Most are female, and the vast majority also have pain when they move their eyes. Retrobulbar neuritis often is an early sign that someone has multiple sclerosis. Between 20% and 40% of the 25,000 people who develop optic neuritis in the United States each year will develop multiple sclerosis within 10 years.

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From Health A-Z, Harvard Health Publications. Copyright 2007 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. All rights reserved. Written permission is required to reproduce, in any manner, in whole or in part, the material contained herein. To make a reprint request, contact Harvard Health Publications. Used with permission of StayWell.

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