Multiple sclerosis (MS) and the eyes

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a neurological condition that damages the myelin coating that protects the body’s nerves. This damage can disrupt messages travelling along the nerves between the brain and the rest of the body causing a range of symptoms including problems with vision and mobility.

According to the Multiple Sclerosis Society, an estimated 130,000 people are living with MS in the UK, with nearly 7,000 people newly diagnosed every year.

How MS can affect the eyes

Because of the complexity of the body’s nervous system, the way in which MS affects people varies significantly but it’s very common for multiple sclerosis to cause problems with the eyes and vision.

Eye problems are often one of the first symptoms of MS and your optometrist can detect early signs of MS in an eye examination. If there are any areas of concern, you will be referred to an ophthalmologist (eye specialist) and a neurologist (a specialist in the nervous system) who is qualified to diagnose multiple sclerosis.

Symptoms of eye problems resulting from MS vary depending on which nerves are affected and the extent of the damage to them. Symptoms may include double vision, involuntary eye movements such as twitching, pain with eye movement, blurred vision, vision loss, and feelings of imbalance.

The most common ways in which MS can affect the eyes are optic neuritis and eye movement problems like double vision (diplopia) and involuntary eye movements (nystagmus).

Optic neuritis and MS

Optic neuritis – inflammation of the optic nerve – is often a first symptom of MS.

MS can cause damage to the myelin coating that protects the optic nerve disrupting messages between the eye and the brain. This can result in blurred vision, blind spots, and limited visual field.

Your optometrist can detect signs of optic neuritis by performing an OCT scan – advanced technology enabling examination of the parts of your eye that can’t be seen in a standard eye examination including the optic nerve and thickness of the retinal layers.

If your optometrist finds signs of optic neuritis, they’ll refer you to a hospital eye department for treatment – most people’s sight recovers well from optic neuritis.

Double vision (diplopia) and MS

The nerves that control the movement of the eyes can also be affected by MS resulting in the eyes not working together properly causing double vision – seeing two images of a single object. Double vision can also create imbalance and feelings of nausea or vertigo.

Double vision can be treated with medication, eye exercises, eye patches, glasses fitted with prism lenses, and in some cases surgery. Your optometrist can help to advise the best treatment for you and may refer you to your GP or an eye hospital specialist.

Involuntary eye movements (nystagmus) and MS

Optic nerve damage caused by MS can also cause nystagmus – the involuntary or uncontrolled movement of the eyes in any direction.

The severity of nystagmus varies: some people barely notice it, whilst for others it can have a significant effect on their vision.

Severe cases of nystagmus can cause oscillopsia: the illusion and feeling that the environment and objects around you are oscillating or moving which can make you feel nauseous and unbalanced.

Whilst there is no current cure for nystagmus, medication, glasses, and contact lenses can help to reduce the unbalancing effects of nystagmus and improve vision.

Book your eye examination today

It is important to have regular eye checks with an optometrist, so that any problems associated with the eyes can be detected at their early stages.  

Visual problems caused by MS can usually be treated and have a positive prognosis for recovery with good eye health and care. An eye examination can establish if there are physiological problems with the eye and the causes of any problems with the eyes or vision.

With regular eye checks, your optometrist can help to resolve and relieve any visual issues associated with MS or any chronic health condition affecting the eyes.

Get in touch today to book an appointment with one of our experienced optometrists.

Call 02392 550723 for Lee-On-The-Solent or 01329 832706 for Wickham.

Alternatively email lee@optomeyes-eyecare.co.uk or wickham@optomeyes-eyecare.co.uk and one of the team will call you back to book your appointment.