Papillitis, also known as optic neuritis, is characterized by inflammation and deterioration of the portion of the optic nerve known as the optic disk. Also referred to as the "blind spot," the optic disk (optic papilla) is that portion of the optic nerve that enters the eye and joins with the nerve-rich membrane lining the eye (retina). The optic nerves are the pair of nerves (second cranial nerves) that transmit impulses from the retina to the brain. Individuals with papillitis experience loss of vision in one eye that may occur within several hours of onset. The severity of visual impairment may vary from case to case, ranging from slight visual deficiency to complete loss of light perception. In addition, affected individuals experience a reduction in color perception. In some cases, spontaneous recovery may occur. However, in other cases, permanent visual impairment may result if the underlying cause is not detected or treated. Papillitis may occur for unknown reasons, after a viral illness, or due to or in association with a number of different underlying disorders or other factors.
The symptoms of papillitis include loss of vision, pain in the eye, and interference with accurate color vision (dyschromatopsia).
Individuals with papillitis usually experience unilateral loss of vision. That is, they lose sight in one eye (about 70% of cases), usually within a short time (a few hours) of having become aware of diminished sight. This condition is usually rapidly progressive.
The intensity of vision impairment varies from case to case, ranging from slight visual deficiency to complete loss of light perception. In addition, affected individuals experience a reduction in color perception. In some cases, spontaneous recovery may occur. However, in other cases, permanent visual impairment may result if the underlying cause is not detected or treated. Papillitis may occur for unknown reasons, after a viral illness, or due to or in association with a number of different underlying disorders or other factors.
There are many possible causes of papillitis. These include diseases that result in damage to the lining of nerves (demyelinating diseases) such as multiple sclerosis and encephalomyelitis; viral or bacterial infections such as polio, measles, pneumonia, or meningitis; nutritional or metabolic disorders such as diabetes, pernicious anemia, and hyperthyroidism; secondary complications of other diseases; reactions to toxic substances such as methanol, quinine, salicylates, and arsenic; and trauma.
In patients over 60 years of age, a common cause of papillitis is temporal arteritis (giant cell arteritis). In such cases, papillitis can spread to the other eye resulting in bilateral blindness.
Papillitis affects males and females in equal numbers and can occur at any age. A percentage of people with papillitis may eventually be diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. (for more information on this disorder, see the Related Disorders section of this report.)
Diagnostic testing may include testing for visual acuity, testing for color vision, examination of the optic disc by means of ophthalmoscopy and magnetic resonance imaging.
If spontaneous remission does not occur in people with papillitis it is usually treated with the corticosteroid drugs prednisone or methylprednisolone. Other treatment is symptomatic and supportive.
Information on current clinical trials is posted on the Internet at www.clinicaltrials.gov. All studies receiving U.S. government funding, and some supported by private industry, are posted on this government website.
For information about clinical trials being conducted at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Clinical Center in Bethesda, MD, contact the NIH Patient Recruitment Office:
Tollfree: (800) 411-1222
TTY: (866) 411-1010
For information about clinical trials sponsored by private sources, contact:
MidAmerica Neuroscience Institute is currently recruiting patients experiencing a first “demyelinating event” for a clinical trial. For information, go to www.clinicaltrial.gov or contact:
Laurie A. Dressman, RN, BA at 816-753-8800 ext 124, at
MidAmerica Neuroscience Institute
Kansas City, MO 64108
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