FAQs about vision problems in MS

Multiple sclerosis can cause vision problems due to damage to the optic nerves — those that connect the eyes to the brain — or to nerves that control the muscles involved in eye movement, which affects eye coordination. These nerves get damaged in MS due to a misguided immune attack against myelin, the fatty coating that protects and insulates nerve fibers.

Several abnormalities in vision have been linked to multiple sclerosis, and are, in fact, common early signs of the disease. Vision problems reported in MS patients include optic neuritis, or inflammation of the optic nerve, double vision, called diplopia, blurred vision, color blindness (poor or deficient color vision), and rapid, uncontrolled eye movements known as nystagmus. Loss of vision may sometimes occur. Some eye conditions associated with MS are temporary and resolve on their own, while others can become persistent.

Yes, multiple sclerosis can cause dry eyes. The condition, which may become severe, is thought to derive from a reduced sensitivity in the cornea (the transparent, outer, protective covering of the eyeball), reduced eye motor responses to stimuli, including a reduction in tear production, and/or increased air exposure due to muscle limitations that interfere with blinking.

Yes, multiple sclerosis can cause a person to see flashing lights — bright spots, or points of light in the field of vision, often referred to as phosphenes. Phosphenes in MS can last for a few seconds or be permanent, and are generally more noticeable in the dark. These flashing lights are frequently linked to optic neuritis, or inflammation of the optic nerve, but also may be associated with other eye problems.

Yes. About two-thirds of people with multiple sclerosis develop visual disturbances at some point in their lives, implying that others can have the disease without experiencing eye symptoms. However, eye-related complications are common in MS patients, and having regular eye examinations is recommended for people with MS.

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