The Asia-Pacific Journal of Ophthalmology

Asia-Pacific Journal of Ophthalmology:

Issue 4, July/August 2018 Review Article

Steroid Treatment of Optic Neuropathies

Stunkel, Leanne; Van Stavern, Gregory P.

Author Information

From the *Department of Neurology; and †Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, Missouri.

Reprints: Gregory P. Van Stavern, MD, Washington University School of Medicine, 660 S. Euclid Ave., St. Louis, Missouri 63110. E-mail:


The etiologies of optic neuropathy include inflammation, ischemia, toxic and metabolic injury, genetic disease, and trauma. There is little controversy over the practice of using steroids in the treatment of optic neuritis—it is well established that intravenous steroid treatment can speed visual recovery but does not alter final visual function. However, there is controversy surrounding the acceptable routes of administration, dosage, and course of treatment. Additionally, the typical patient with optic neuritis is young and otherwise healthy, and thus is likely to tolerate steroids well. In ischemic and traumatic causes of optic neuropathies, the initial injury is not inflammatory, but damage may be compounded by secondary injury due to resultant inflammation and swelling in the confined space of the optic canal. Steroids have been considered as a means of minimizing inflammation and swelling, and thus minimizing the secondary injury that results. However, the use of steroids in traumatic and ischemic optic neuropathies is highly controversial—the evidence for the efficacy of treatment with steroids is insufficient to show that there is significant benefit. Additionally, patients with these conditions are more likely to have comorbidities that make them vulnerable to significant adverse events with the use of steroids. In this article, we attempt to analyze the current state of the literature regarding the use of steroids in the treatment of optic neuropathies, specifically optic neuritis, nonarteritic anterior ischemic optic neuropathy, and traumatic optic neuropathy.

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