Optic Nerve Atrophy

What Is Optic Nerve Atrophy?

Optic nerve atrophy (ONA) is degeneration of, or damage to, the optic nerve, a cluster of nerves that carry vision information from the eye to the brain. Causes of ONA include heredity, trauma (including stroke), a tumor, a decrease in oxygen or blood supply, infections, or disorders.

The effects of ONA have a broad range dependent on the adequacy of visual messages sent from the eyes to the brain, from little or no visual impairment to near-total blindness. The condition may affect one or both eyes.

How Is Optic Nerve Atrophy Diagnosed?

Parents may notice a lack of eye contact and visual responsiveness in their baby and will have their child assessed by an ophthalmologist; alternatively, an older child may complain of vision issues and will visit an ophthalmologist for a routine eye exam. When the child’s eyes are dilated, the ophthalmologist will note that the previously healthy optic nerve is pale in color. A diagnosis will be given.

Are There Treatments for Optic Nerve Atrophy?

Vision loss through optic nerve atrophy is permanent. However, if the underlying cause can be identified and successfully treated, further vision loss may be prevented.

How Would You Describe the Eyesight of One with Optic Nerve Atrophy and How Will My Child Function with It?

While it is possible to have typical vision with ONA, children and adults with ONA commonly experience poor visual acuity (blurriness) which is not correctable with glasses, peripheral field loss (“tunnel vision”), or central field loss as well as sensitivity to bright light and glare (“photophobia”).

Your child’s teacher of students with visual impairments should perform a functional vision assessment to determine how your child uses his or her vision in everyday life and a learning media assessment to determine which senses your child primarily uses to get information from the environment. These assessments, along with an orientation and mobility assessment conducted by a mobility specialist, will give the team information needed to make specific recommendations for your child to best access learning material and his or her environment.

An individual with poor visual acuity may have difficulty recognizing faces and facial expressions as well as accessing near and detailed information. If this is the case, your child may benefit from increased room and task lighting; utilizing assistive technology to more easily write, read, use the computer, and access information; and to utilize techniques and additional accommodations to perform activities with limited vision.

An individual with loss of central vision or peripheral vision will have difficulty gathering comprehensive visual information in an environment; he or she will benefit from learning visual efficiency skills such as scanning an environment in an organized manner. Additionally, the individual is likely to bump into obstacles; he or she should learn orientation and mobility (travel) techniques, such as the use of a cane, to avoid obstacles.

An individual with photophobia may benefit from specialized sunglasses (amber-tinted lenses), use of a brimmed hat while outdoors as well as shutting blinds while indoors if glare is present.

Resources for Families of Children with Optic Nerve Atrophy