MS vision problems – what you need to know

Take a look at our MS symptoms guide to find out what changes you can easily make to prevent MS vision problems.

Overview

Vision problems may have been one of the first symptoms you sought professional advice for, as something like temporary tingling skin can be dismissed as ‘normal’ and overlooked.

MS eye symptoms include:

  • Involuntary rapid eye movements
  • Pain moving the eye
  • Reduced colour vision
  • Double vision (diplopia)
  • Blurred or hazy vision in one eye
  • A complete loss of sight (rare)

Visual symptoms can be a result of lack of coordination in the eye muscles or damage to the optic nerve which connects the eye to the brain. Damage or inflammation of the optic nerve means you experience a disturbance or temporary loss of vision. You might also have some pain behind the affected eye.


Types of MS vision problems

You may find that your MS visual problems affect just one eye or both, and may come and go.  Sometimes the problems disappear completely, while others become more permanent. 

Common types of vision problems caused by MS include:

  • Double vision (diplopia)

Double vision occurs when your eyes send two images to your brain instead of one. This confuses your brain and is caused by damage to the brain stem, which helps to coordinate your eye movements. 

  • Nystagmus

Nystagmus is when you find yourself involuntary moving your eyes. The movement is often rhythmic and results in a jerking or jumping sensation in the eye, particularly at the edges of your gaze. This can make you feel nauseous or dizzy.

You might also feel like the world is swaying from side to side or up and down  – this is called oscillopsia and is caused by MS affecting the cerebellum (the brain’s coordination centre) or your inner ear. You might feel this is worse when you look in a particular direction.

  • Optic neuritis

Optic neuritis is a common early MS symptom, but can also be a condition in its own right and doesn’t always result in MS.  Some people with MS describe optic neuritis like a smudge in their vision. It causes hazy or blurry vision in one eye. You may also find that colour isn’t as strong as it usually is.  Some people experience some discomfort or mild pain like the eye is “bruised”.

You will often find that your vision gradually returns to normal within six weeks to six months after a case of optic neuritis.

  • Partial or full blindness

Less commonly, people with MS may experience blindness, where MS progresses and irreversibly damages the optic nerve. 


Preventing MS vision disturbances

Action you can take:

Experiencing disturbances in your vision as a result of MS can be frightening, so it is reassuring to know that there are things you can do to help prevent or reduce the chance of their occurrence.

  • Resting your eyes throughout the day can help manage symptoms 

Doctors can prescribe an eye patch to help manage double vision or glasses that contain prisms.

A specific form of neuro physiotherapy, called vestibular rehabilitation can help with abnormal eye movements and reduce the associated symptoms of dizziness and balance problems.

  • Know the triggers that affect your vision and make it worse. 

Becoming hot might make the visual disturbances worse so wear lightweight clothing and stay in the cool during the heat of a summer day. Icy drinks, cooling neck wraps and cooling vests can also help to lower your body temperature. 

On the other hand, feeling cold can increase MS spasticity so it may take some practice to find ways of staying at the most comfortable temperature.

Stress can also trigger MS vision problems so incorporate ways of relaxing into your everyday routine - whether that is yoga, massage or meditation - whatever helps you to unwind.

  • Ask your doctor about steroid treatment

For acute cases of optic neuritis, steroids can speed up your visual recovery, but they don’t have an affect on long-term visual outcomes. It is therefore advisable to combine steroid treatment with other treatments.

  • Take action on MS fatigue 

Lack of sleep and fatigue can also trigger eye problems, or make them worse. You can read about how to manage MS fatigue here. 

Here you can connect with others who have had similar experiences and share advice.

Our evidence-based, 7-Step Recovery Program combines all these lifestyle changes, that will also help with other MS symptoms so that you can take action, renew your sense of hope and see positive differences for yourself.


What are the next steps?

If it seems like there is too much information and you don’t know where to start, read through our next steps – we can help you.


Further reading