Information about AION—Stroke of the Optic Nerve

Q: My father was diagnosed with anterior ischemic optic neuropathy. What causes this condition, and what is the best treatment?

A: Anterior ischemic optic neuropathy (AION) is sometimes referred to as a stroke of the optic nerve. It's caused by a loss of blood flow to the optic nerve at the back of the eye; the result is partial vision loss in that eye.

AION usually occurs in people over age 50 and is also associated with cardiovascular disease risk factors, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, diabetes and cigarette smoking.

There is no effective way to restore vision when AION occurs. Researchers have investigated surgery at the back of the eye, large doses of steroids, eyedrops, and injections into the eye, but none has been successful. Many doctors recommend long-term low-dose aspirin therapy. Better control of diabetes is indicated for those with this disease and AION.

One form of AION occurs in the disease polymyalgia rheumatica. If this is present, immediate oral steroid treatment can sometimes block AION from occurring or from affecting the second eye.

Unfortunately, many people with AION are left with seriously impaired vision. Low-vision rehabilitation, particularly if both eyes are involved, is invaluable.

Publication Review By: Susan B. Bressler, M.D., Harry A. Quigley, M.D., Oliver D. Schein, M.D., M.P.H.

Published: 01 Mar 2011

Last Modified: 02 Feb 2015