The Fear of Vision Symptoms
When MS affects one of our primary senses
Some of the scariest symptoms have to do with one of our primary senses: our ability to see. Vision issues are actually very prevalent among those with MS; 80% of those with MS will at some point experience them.1 Very often, vision problems are the very first symptom that people notice, often being the driving factor that sends them in search of a diagnosis. No matter how early or often we’re forced to confront these attacks on our sight, vision issues remain a scary symptom for those with MS.
How MS causes vision symptoms
OK, by now you hopefully have a good idea of how MS works. Our immune system gets overactive and attacks the lining (myelin) around our nerves. This attack damages or destroys that lining, making that nerve less efficient at conducting electrical signals from the brain. The brain says to do something, and because of that damage to the myelin, the signal doesn’t arrive in time, or at all, or only partially arrives. We start to have problems with our vision when this damage is done to the nerves that control our vision.
When our vision is affected, we can experience several types of issues:
When the optic nerve becomes inflamed, this can manifest in several ways. This includes blurred or dim vision, color vision loss, pain when moving the eyes, side vision loss, and even full vision loss. Typically, this only happens in one eye at a time, and vision will return to normal, but there are cases of it being permanent.
Involuntary movement of the eyes. Often called “dancing eyes” because your eyes may rapidly move side to side or up and down. Not only does this affect our ability to see, but it can be very disorienting as well.
Double vision brought when the nerves that control our eye movement have been affected by MS. The muscles that control our eye movements are coordinated. When the nerves of one of those groups of muscles are affected by MS and the other nerves are not, it often manifests itself as this type of double vision.
Living with MS vision symptoms
As I mentioned before, anything that causes vision problems is extremely frightening. Even if you know that your vision will return to normal, there is always that slight fear that it won’t. It can also affect nearly every aspect of your life. Vision issues were not among my early problems (as they normally are for those with MS). They came later in the form of extremely blurred vision and also impaired side vision.
MS triggers can bring vision symptoms to the surface
While time and a course of IV steroids did improve that particular exacerbation, like so many MS symptoms, the damage to the nerves is done. If I get too warm, overworked, or stressed, the issues come to the surface again.
What if my vision doesn't return?
My vision issues are actually one of the ways I first begin to realize that I need to rest or cool off. The warmer I get, the blurrier my vision becomes and eventually, the sides of my vision becomes dark to the point that I have little to no real peripheral vision. No matter how used to it I am, it can still cause me to worry. I know my vision normally returns, but what if it doesn’t? What if this isn’t old damage but the part of a new exacerbation that takes my sight forever?
Vision issues can mess with your head
There is just something about losing one of your primary senses that can really mess with your head. Like so many things with this disease, it’s a mind game. You need to reassure yourself that you’ll be OK and that, statistically, you’ll be fine, that your vision will return. Patience is the name of the game. That said, if you suspect that your vision issues are new or extremely worsened, get in touch with your neurologist. A course of steroids can be helpful in minimizing the overall time that you are suffering.
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