What is optic atrophy?

Optic atrophy is a condition that affects the optic nerve, which carries impulses from the eye to the brain. (Atrophy means to waste away or deteriorate.)

Optic atrophy is not a disease, but rather a sign of a potentially more serious condition. Optic atrophy results from damage to the optic nerve from many different kinds of pathologies. The condition can cause problems with vision, including blindness.

What causes optic atrophy?

The optic nerve is composed of nerve fibers that transmit impulses to the brain. In the case of optic atrophy, something is interfering with the optic nerve's ability to transmit these impulses. The interference can be caused by numerous factors, including:

  • Glaucoma.
  • Stroke of the optic nerve, known as anterior ischemic optic neuropathy.
  • A tumor that is pressing on the optic nerve.
  • Optic neuritis, an inflammation (swelling) of the optic nerve caused by multiple sclerosis.
  • A hereditary condition in which the person experiences loss of vision first in one eye, and then in the other (known as Leber's hereditary optic neuropathy).
  • Improper formation of the optic nerve, which is a congenital problem (the person is born with it).

What are the symptoms of optic atrophy?

The symptoms of optic atrophy relate to a change in vision, specifically:

  • Blurred vision.
  • Difficulties with peripheral (side) vision.
  • Difficulties with color vision.
  • A reduction in sharpness of vision.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 03/10/2015.


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