Ask an Eye M.D. Answer Archive

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Question:
I just returned from the eye doctor and he said I have pressure behind both eyes and that I might have calcification build-up on the optic nerve. What exactly does this mean?

Answer:
Your eye doctor has likely found that your optic nerves look full on examination. The optic nerve carries visual information through one million nerves that connect the retina to the brain. Optic nerve fullness can be a normal variant, or can be secondary to certain medical conditions.

One condition is optic nerve drusen. Drusen are little calcium deposits that can be buried inside the optic nerve and cause it to be full. Optic nerve drusen are very common. They typically cause no visual problems for the patient, although they can cause some peripheral vision abnormalities on visual field testing. Most patients don’t even know they have a problem, however, as they cause no change in the clarity of the patient's vision. There is no good treatment for drusen.

Another more worrisome condition that causes fullness of the optic nerves is papilledema. This is true swelling of the optic nerve and is secondary to an elevation in the pressure in the brain (not the eye). A patient with true optic nerve swelling needs to be assessed with a CT or MRI scan and possibly a spinal tap.

You should see an ophthalmologist soon, and your ophthalmologist should be able to distinguish between these two causes of fullness of the optic nerves.

Answered by: Jane C. Edmond, MDDr. Jane C. Edmond

Categories: Eye Conditions

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Answered: Jun 26, 2013

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