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Posted On February 25, 2021

What Is Traumatic Optic Neuropathy?

Severe head trauma associated with loss of consciousness is often linked to traumatic optic neuropathy: sudden permanent vision loss.

Vision Loss Caused by Head Trauma

When a person suffers head trauma, there is a possibility of damage to the optic nerve, the primary link for passing information between the eyes and the brain. A severe injury can damage nerve cells causing swelling, excessive tears, and cell death. This type of injury, known as traumatic optic neuropathy (TON), has no effective medical treatment and often results in irreversible vision loss.

Medical research shows that traumatic optic neuropathy is linked to inflammation brought on by a rush of white blood cells to the optic nerve. Although white blood cells normally help to repair damaged tissues, uncontrolled or excessive inflammation can cause clogged or ruptured blood vessels, produce toxic molecules like free radicals, and activate processes for cell death.

Injury lawyers commonly see severe head trauma caused by car crashes, slip and falls, diving accidents, and contact sports-related injuries from football, baseball, and soccer. When the frontal impact is severe, spontaneous recovery of vision occurs in less than 50% of injury victims. If TON occurs, it is usually divided into two distinct categories: 1. Direct Traumatic Optic Neuropathy and 2. Indirect Traumatic Optic Neuropathy.

Direct Traumatic Optic Neuropathy

Direct injury to the optic nerve arises from penetrating trauma, especially orbital fractures often associated with injuries to the face. This may be caused by hitting a dashboard in a car crash, falling directly into an object, or being hit in the face by a fist or baseball. In severe direct injuries and concussions, the brain can actually shift, resulting in traumatic brain injury (TBI).

Indirect Traumatic Optic Neuropathy

Indirect injuries are more common. They are caused when the force of impact in a head injury is transmitted to the optic nerve. Centuries ago, Hippocrates noted this complication of head injury by stating that blows to the eyebrows may cause blindness. Indirect injuries can cause blurred vision, decreased color vision, and partial or complete vision loss.

Any head trauma should be evaluated right away by a licensed medical professional who can use X-rays, CT scans, and MRIs to determine a diagnosis and proper treatment plan. If vision loss is present, surgery may be required to prevent permanent vision loss. If a head injury that results in TON is caused by the negligence of another person, an injury lawyer can file a personal injury lawsuit in civil court to compensate the injury victim.

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