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Tips for managing vision problems among people with MS

By Rachel Jane

As described by the World Health Organization, multiple sclerosis is a chronic disease that affects the central nervous system. The immune system essentially attacks the brain and spinal cord, thereby affecting cognitive, motor, sensory, and emotional processing. Around 1.8 million people worldwide have MS, and the symptoms vary from person to person.

With this, though, one aspect of MS symptoms that often gets overlooked has to do with the eyes. Optic nerves are also affected by the disease and can lead to blurred sight, double vision, and inflammation (optic neuritis). As it is important to address holistic well-being with MS, caring for eye health is necessary. Here are a few tips to help you get started.

Regularly schedule eye exams

Although many MS-related eye issues are fairly obvious for most patients, some develop a little more subtly. As such, it's important for patients to regularly get checked out by ophthalmologists. Regular eye exams can help monitor vision changes, which can change rapidly because of the progressive nature of MS. This not only helps alleviate symptoms but can also help alleviate pain, leading to a better quality of life in general.

Additionally, seeing an eye doctor can help ensure your care plan is well-rounded. With an ophthalmologist's guidance, your primary healthcare provider can get a better understanding of your condition and adjust your treatment plan, as necessary, with regard to your vision.

Get blue light glasses

As mentioned previously, MS can also cause inflammation in the eye. Having inflamed optic nerves can lead to long-term damage, severe pain, and partial or complete loss of vision. Given that increased screen use has been found to be a major cause of inflammation in the eyes, it is important for MS patients to protect their eyes accordingly.

Aside from reducing screen time, another effective way for MS patients to protect their eyes from further inflammation is through filtering eyewear. Specifically, patients should consider getting blue light glasses. These glasses filter and shield the retina from specific light frequencies that come from electronics, which can prevent irritation and make it more comfortable to look at a screen for long periods of time. With these glasses, MS patients have the additional benefit of preserving their nerve health because these glasses can also prevent optic nerve sensitivity.

Wear an eye patch

Some people with MS may experience double vision (diplopia), where an individual sees a double image when there should only be one. Besides causing confusion, having double vision affects balance, reading, and a person’s movements. This symptom can affect one or both eyes, and treatments can vary depending on what a patient is experiencing.

Some common treatments include eye exercises such as pen-to-nose convergence and stereograms to help target double vision. In line with this, a patient may also be recommended to wear an eye patch if only one eye experiences double vision to help the brain focus on images better and reduce nausea and loss of balance.

Inquire about steroid injections

Finally, if you need something more aggressive, steroids are a common prescription for individuals with MS, as they can stop inflammatory cells from migrating to the central nervous system. In terms of eye health, steroids can suppress inflammation in other parts of the body, including the eyes, so related symptoms can be relieved. There are different kinds of steroids used for MS treatment, and some are administered orally, while others can be given through injection or IV drip.

Regardless of what a doctor prescribes for their patient, it is important to consider the side effects of the drug. This includes potential allergic reactions, vulnerability to glaucoma, swelling in the hands, increased blood glucose, and weight gain, to name a few. Each patient’s body is different, and testing to see how they react to the drug is an important factor to consider before prescription.