March is Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Awareness Month, so I’d like to take a minute to discuss some of the vision-related symptoms individuals with MS may experience.

As a quick review, MS is a chronic neurological condition that affects nearly 1 million individuals in the U.S. This disease affects the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord). The damage that occurs as the result of this disease affects how nerves communicate information from the brain to the spinal cord and other parts of the body, including the eyes.

In fact, according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, visual problems are often the first symptom of MS and approximately 80% of people with MS will experience some sort of visual impairment during the course of their disease.

Fortunately, the prognosis for recovery of these visual problems is generally good. If visual problems continue to persist, however, there are many resources and tools available to help people adapt to their changing vision–organizations like Future In Sight, for example!

What sort of impairments might someone with MS experience? Here are two of the most common visual problems associated with MS:

A woman rubbing her eyesOptic Neuritis

Optic neuritis is an inflammation of the optic nerve, and it is the most common visual impairment experienced by people with MS. Optic neuritis usually occurs in one eye and is often characterized by aching pain when the eye moves, blurred vision, impaired color vision, blind spots in the central visual field, impaired depth perception, or decreased contrast sensitivity.

Though these visual symptoms may appear suddenly and intensely, they usually improve over time with many people regaining normal to close-to-normal vision within a month up to a year. Residual visual symptoms such as dimmed or blurry vision may resurface when body temperature is high (taking a hot shower, exercising, or having a fever). Glucocorticoids (steroids) may be used to accelerate recovery from optic neuritis.

Diplopia (Double Vision)

a double vision handDiplopia, also known as double vision, occurs when the nerves that cause eye movement are inflamed/damaged in one eye more than the other, affecting the eyes’ ability to move together in a coordinated manner. This creates two separate images that don’t quite match up – a person may see two images side-by-side or one image on top of the other when he or she is only looking at a single object.

This can cause challenges with balance as the individual’s orientation to his or her surroundings becomes distorted. This is usually managed with steroids or sometimes with prisms in a person’s glasses.

As you can imagine, both optic Neuritis and Diplopia can have significant negative impacts on how a person functions with daily activities like reading, writing, cooking, driving, and walking. A comprehensive treatment plan for MS may involve a number of doctors and specialists including your primary care provider (PCP), your optometrist, a neurologist, and perhaps physical and occupational therapists.

You may also benefit from services specifically geared to help you manage the visual complications of MS and that’s where Future In Sight may be able to help.

For more information about Multiple Sclerosis, you can check out Nationalmssociety.org or Msfocus.org and to get help living with a vision impairment, contact Future In Sight at 603-224-4039 or email us at services@futureinsight.org

Written by:

Sarah Woodbury, MS OTR/L

Beth Daisy, MS OTR/L, CAPS

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