Multiple sclerosis (MS) affects everyone differently. No two people have the exact same symptoms or experiences with the disease. Since MS affects the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, you may have a wide range of symptoms. Some are visible and can be seen by others. Others are invisible and are only seen or felt by the person with MS.
Through our MS Symptom Series, we’ll provide some information and tips about different symptoms to discuss with your healthcare team. Remember, your healthcare team should be your primary source for information or any questions.
Vision problems are common among people living with multiple sclerosis (MS). They may be one of the first symptoms people experience. MS causes damage to the brain and spinal cord, which may affect vision by blocking nerve impulses or killing nerve cells altogether. This can lead to different types of vision problems, including blurred or doubled vision, uncontrolled eye movement, light sensitivity, seeing spots, and pain with eye movement. They may appear soon after diagnosis or later on. Fortunately, many of these symptoms may be temporary and clear up on their own.
Optic neuritis is the most common vision problem, affecting about 20% of people with MS. This is when the protective substance around the optic nerve (myelin) is mistakenly attacked by the immune system. The optic nerve sends signals from the eyes to the brain to create a visual. When damaged, the signals may be disrupted, potentially leading to blurring and graying vision. Optic neuritis tends to appear fairly early in MS, but it may occur later.
Other common vision problems may include double vision and involuntary eye movement.
Although vision problems are often temporary, it’s important to let your healthcare team know if you have difficulty seeing or if you feel any pain.
If you’re experiencing any vision impairments, here are a few tips to discuss with your healthcare team.
Heat and stress may increase the likelihood of experiencing vision problems for people living with MS. Stay hydrated with cool water, keep your home at a cool temperature, and be aware of your body temperature. To stay cool mentally, try to take some time every day to relax and unwind. Learn how to stay relaxed through meditation.
A magnifying glass may help when you are reading small print magazines, books, newspapers, or directions. For digital devices, consider using the zoom feature.
When working on digital devices (eg, cell phones, tablets, computers), be mindful of the glare intensity and color tint. Staring too long at a screen may put additional strain on your eyes. Consider wearing yellow-tinted computer glasses, turning down the brightness on your phone or setting it to night mode, and limiting your screen time overall.
An eye patch may help if you are experiencing double vision. Consider wearing one while reading or driving, but try to avoid wearing it for extended periods of time. Talk to your healthcare team before using an eye patch.
Try taping off or painting light switches, doorways, railings, and ledges in your house. The pop of color may help you find what you need sooner—and may literally be a sight for sore eyes!
If you’re going out to restaurants, bars, movie theaters, or anywhere that may offer dim lighting, consider taking a flashlight to help navigate those dark spaces. Most cell phones have a built-in flashlight you can use. Also, consider using glow-in-the-dark paint to find everyday items in the dark, like glasses or remotes. You can’t see the paint in light, but you’ll see your belongings in the dark.
There are many things you can do to help your vision. Remember to always talk to your healthcare team before making any changes to your daily routine or lifestyle.