Visual problems are often the first symptoms associated with multiple sclerosis. More than half of people living with multiple sclerosis will experience at least one issue with vision. Identifying the issue and seeking early treatment is key to effective management.

Types of visual symptoms

There are three types of visual symptoms in multiple sclerosis:

1. Optic neuritis

An inflammation of the optic nerve and the most common visual disorder associated with MS. Symptoms may include:

  • Pain when eye moved
  • Diminished colour vision
  • Blurred vision
  • Blind spots
  • Loss of contrast sensitivity

2.   Double vision

Also known as diplopia, double vision is linked to inflammation in the brain stem which coordinates movement of the eyes. As such, vision messages from each eye are uncoordinated and a false double image is experienced. This can sometimes lead to a loss of balance.

3.   Nystagmus

Nystagmus is the involuntary movement of the eyes – from side to side, up and down or in a rotary manner. This sometimes goes unnoticed by the person living with multiple sclerosis but can be clearly seen by an observer. If more persistent, nystagmus may contribute to dizziness, nausea and impaired balance.

Treatment of vision impairment

Optic neuritis

Optic neuritis is usually transient and associated with good recovery, which takes four to six weeks. In the majority of people living with multiple sclerosis, eyesight can return to normal without treatment. Depending on severity, optic neuritis is sometimes treated with steroids, which aim to reduce the inflammation and speed up recovery.

Double vision

If you experience double vision as part of a relapse, it will often recover, partially or fully – and often on its own. Steroid treatment can help speed up the rate of recovery. To reduce the impact of double vision you can use a patch over one eye to block out one of the images. Temporary stick-on Fresnel prisms can be worn on your glasses to adjust the way light enters your eye to help realign the two images.

If you have long-lasting double vision, discuss other treatment options with your medical team, such as botulinum toxin or surgery.


Nystagmus can be a difficult symptom to treat, so you will need to discuss this with your doctor. Occasionally drug therapy may be suggested.

Getting help

If you feel eye pain, notice that colours appear to have faded, experience double or blurred vision or seem to have ‘blind spots’, talk to your GP or MS nurse, or ask to be referred to the appropriate specialist.

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Download the MSQ Vision and MS fact sheet

Includes information, resources and tips to help you manage vision impairment.

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