Eye Exam Helps Identify Multiple Sclerosis

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Eye Exam Helps Identify Multiple Sclerosis

It started on a Tuesday and I remember the exact day because it happened in the middle of a three-hour evening college composition class that I was teaching once a week. I was reviewing an essay assignment with the class when it set in, what I thought was one of the worst headaches I’d ever had.

I ended class early, drove home, took three ibuprofen, and went straight to bed without eating anything. I knew the headache would be gone in the morning.

Except it wasn’t gone the next morning and it didn’t subside all week. The pain was acute and unlike anything I’d ever experienced. I didn’t know how to describe it beyond a strange headache, behind my left eye, that wouldn’t go away. Jeremy, my fiance at the time, thought it might be a sinus infection and bought me Sudafed. The Sudafed did not help. Ibuprofen did not help. Other painkillers did not help. Warm compresses did not help. Sleeping did not help.

No matter what I did, I could not alleviate the pain.

On day seven of pain, I noticed that with my left eye the color yellow looked off-white and the color red looked brown. It confused me at first. I am used to some double vision, having lived with amblyopia (more commonly known as a lazy eye) in my left eye for my whole life. It was normal to me that my left eye didn’t see as well.

But the color change was new, and I knew that with the pain and vision change something was wrong with my eye.

Jeremy called his eye doctor and got me an appointment right away.

Eye Exam Helps Identify Multiple Sclerosis

The news at the eye doctor was devastating: optic neuritis.

I needed an MRI right away, the eye doctor said. It could be a sign of multiple sclerosis (MS).

Optic neuritis, inflammation of the optic nerve, is often an early indicator of MS, a disease affecting the central nervous system. It causes the myelin, the protective sheath around the nerves, to deteriorate and lead to nerve damage. Symptoms range in severity from fatigue and tingling to numbness and paralysis, depending on how aggressively the disease progresses.

Shocked by this news, I left the eye doctor’s office in tears, called Jeremy and asked him to come home right away. I didn’t know anything about MS and couldn’t imagine what my life would be like if that’s what it was.

The optic neuritis subsided after seventeen days and my vision returned to normal. I had my first MRI less than one month after seeing the eye doctor and it revealed lesions on my brain. Lesions indicate where in the body the deterioration of myelin is happening.

I was diagnosed with MS eighteen months later.

After the diagnosis, I experienced numbness in my left leg for about six months and it took about a year to find a health management protocol that works for me. My treatment now consists of a modified diet, supplementation, exercise, stress management, and regular visits with my care team. Fatigue continues to be a constant challenge, but this protocol has served me well and I have not had a medically qualified MS relapse for almost six years.

Although the journey from discovering the optic neuritis to being diagnosed with MS has not been easy, I find healing in sharing my story as a way to help others see that health and wellness is possible for them as it is for me.

Watch more of Janna’s story:

Janna Maron is a an advocate for the healing power of storytelling and she’s currently working on her first book. Follow her on Instagram @jannamarlies.

7 Comments

  • Dorothy Kane says:

    Soon after I gave birth to my son in 1981 I started seeing double. I went to several eye doctors (optometrists & opthamologists). All of them said that one of my eyes was crossing and they didn’t know why. I know now I should have seen a neurological opthalmologist. My eyes straightened on their own in a couple of weeks. That’s what happens in Relapsing/Remitting MS. It wasn’t until I had different problems (vertigo & numbness in legs) in 1998 that I was finally diagnosed.

    • Donna says:

      In 1988 I too had a problem with my left eye which ended up with me being admitted to the hospital. My pupil was blown and I couldn’t see out of it they checked me for tumors and aneurysms stroke . And called in a neurologist who’d diagnosed me with optic Neuritis and talked to me about M S Which I was then monitored for several years The vision came back in 3 months but the pupil took a year to get to completely back to normal. Other problems came up numbness , vertigo fatigue muscle weakness bladder issues. . And I was diagnosed at age 35 with R/ R MS ,

  • Shannon says:

    My opthamologist diagnosed or suggested I see a neurologist when I visited him due to severe pain in eye and loss of vision. My neurologist confirmed MS.

  • Mary says:

    It was the eye doctor who discovered my sister’s MS as well. Unfortunately, it has not been a very happy road over the past 20+ years.

  • Yvette says:

    A friend of mine went in for a routine eye exam. Half way through the exam the doctor stopped the exam and told her to go the emergency room right now. Alarmed, she asked him why and he stated that he couldn’t make a diagnosis without further testing but to go to the ER and tell them that your eye doctor strongly suggested that you come in. She went to the ER and didn’t leave the hospital until eight months later after being diagnosed with Papilledema. She returned to her eye doctor and thanked him for being instrumental in saving her life. That was thirty years ago and she is still around thanks in large part to her Optometrist.

  • Kate says:

    I’ve had MS for 20 years started with optic neuritis. Recently had cataract surgery and the eye dr discovered uveitis from inflammation with MS in both eyes. It left scarring around my pupils. I was amazed that he had picked up on that when my neurologist didn’t

  • Mary Jo Stoliker says:

    My opthamologist was essential in my diagnosis. At age 33 I had an episode of slurred speech. The neurologist at that time said that people with MS sometimes have that. In 1983 there were few diagnostic tools. I was basically told to have a nice life. I went about my life with 3 kids and several moves. No symptoms of anything, so ZI figured it must be a mistake. Flash forward to about 2001 and my opthamologist sent me for an MRI. Something wasn’t computing. He wanted to see what was going on with the optic nerves. He called me in and said the MRI showed I had MS and he was so sorry. I was very calm. Hmmm, maybe that doctor back in 1983 was right. Got into the best MS doctor around and have only had one relapse in all those years and it was a woozy. But I thank my opthamologist for his attention to my health.

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