Science / Health

Eye Doctors Explain Papilledema

Papilledema is a medical condition where a swelling occurs in the optic nerve, which is at the back of the eye and connects the eye and the brain. The swelling is as a result of build-up of pressure around or in the brain (intracranial pressure) which might have several causes. The swelling can happen over a spell of hours to weeks. Check Chicago Top Eye Doctor Directory for an eye doctor near you.


The optic nerve and the brain are enclosed by cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), which helps in keeping them protected and stable from damage from unexpected movements. Papilledema occurs as a result of elevated pressure from the brain and cerebrospinal fluid which is deposited on the optic nerve causing the nerve to bulge as it goes in the eyeball at the optic disc. Some serious medical conditions that can lead to development of this increased pressure include infection in the brain, abnormalities of the skull, brain tumor, bleeding brain, head trauma, inflammation of the brain and neighbouring tissue, blockages of blood or cerebrospinal fluid in the brain, and hypertensive crisis. Idiopathic intracranial hypertension (IIH) is a unique condition where the body releases a lot of cerebrospinal fluid that leads to elevated pressure in the brain. IIH symptoms include visual disturbances, headaches, and buzzing in the ears. It’s specific cause is not known and has no relation to any brain injury or disease. It affects obese and younger females. It is also associated with medications like corticosteroids, lithium, certain antibiotics, and thyroid hormone treatment

Symptoms and complications

One might not have any symptoms in the first stages of papilledema. A doctor might find it when they notice optic nerve swelling at a normal eye exam. As it advances, you are likely to develop vision problems in both eyes. Double or blurred vision and vision loss are common for a few seconds at a time. Other symptoms are queasiness, throwing up and headache. In IIH, some of these symptoms are more detectable. You could get a headache daily and detect it on both sides of your head. The headaches might not always have the same intensity but worsens as you keep getting them. You may experience throbbing in your head. Untreated papilledema can result in serious eye issues, beginning with peripheral loss or side vision. In later phases, your vision can become totally blurred. Some individuals may turn blind in one or both eyes.


Treatment of a medical problem should be able to cure papilledema. For example, you might require antibiotics for surgery to remove an abscess or tumor, brain infection, or medicine to melt a blood clot. With mild papilledema with no symptoms, your doctor may monitor you and do consistent testing to check any vision issues immediately. If papilledema isn’t life-threatening, weight loss and a diuretic called acetazolamide are recommended. You can take painkillers for headaches. Topiramate can also be used. Removal of some spinal fluids always relieves the symptoms and pressure or regular spinal taps hold the pressure down. If your vision worsens despite all these attempts, a variety of brain surgery can soothe the pressure and preserve the optic nerve.

Papilledema can be life threatening, therefore it is important to identify its cause and treat it. If papilledema is not treated, it can lead to loss of vision and also return if it’s not treated successfully.

Back to top button