Second cranial nerve atrophy

Alternative names
Optic nerve atrophy

Optic nerve atrophy involves tissue death of the nerve that carries the information of vision from the eye to the brain.

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

There are many unrelated causes of optic atrophy. The most common cause is poor blood flow, called ischemic optic neuropathy, which most often affects the elderly. The optic nerve can also be damaged by shock, various toxic substances, radiation, and trauma.

Various eye diseases, most commonly glaucoma, can also cause optic nerve atrophy. In addition, the condition can be caused by diseases of the brain and central nervous system, such as cranial arteritis (soemtimes called temporal arteritis), Multiple sclerosis, brain tumor, and Stroke.

There are also several rare forms of hereditary optic nerve atrophy that affect children and young adults.


Optic nerve atrophy causes dimming of vision and reduction of the field of vision. The ability to see fine detail will also be lost. The pupil reaction to light will diminish and may eventually be completely lost.

Signs and tests

Optic nerve atrophy can be readily detected on complete examination of the eyes. Seeking the cause may require a complete physical examination and specific tests.


Once it has occurred, damage from optic nerve atrophy cannot be reversed. The underlying disease must be found and treated if possible to prevent further loss.

Expectations (prognosis)

Vision lost to optic nerve atrophy cannot be recovered. If the cause can be identified and controlled, further visual loss progressing to Blindness may be prevented.


Related to the causative disease.

Calling your health care provider

Patients with optic nerve atrophy will be closely monitored by an ophthalmologist with experience in neuro-ophthalmology. Any change in vision should be reported urgently.


Many causes of optic nerve atrophy cannot be prevented. Facial injuries can be prevented by standard safety precautions. Most such injuries are related to motor vehicle accidents and can be prevented by seat belt use.

Methanol is the most common toxin causing optic nerve atrophy. It can be found in home-brewed alcohol. Home-brewed alcohol and forms of alcohol not intended for drinking should never be consumed.

Johns Hopkins patient information

Last revised: December 4, 2012
by Harutyun Medina, M.D.

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