The outcome of traumatic optic neuropathy was evaluated following penetrating and blunt injuries to assess the effect of treatment options, including high-dose steroids, surgical intervention, and observation alone. Factors that affected improvement in visual acuity were identified and quantified. Sixty-one consecutive, nonrandomized patients presenting with visual loss after facial trauma between 1984 and 1996 were assessed for outcome. Pretreatment and posttreatment visual acuities were compared using a standard ophthalmologic conversion from the values of no light perception, light perception, hand motion, finger counting, and 20/800 down to 20/15 to a logarithm of the minimum angle of resolution (log MAR). The percentage of patients showing visual improvement and the degree of improvement were calculated for each patient group and treatment method. Measurements of visual acuity are in log MAR units +/- standard error of the mean. Patients who sustained penetrating facial trauma (n = 21) had worse outcomes than patients with blunt trauma (n = 40). Improvement in visual acuity after treatment was seen in 19 percent of patients with penetrating trauma compared with 45 percent of patients with blunt trauma (p < 0.05). Furthermore, patients with penetrating trauma improved less than those with blunt trauma, with a mean improvement of 0.4 +/- 0.23 log MAR compared with 1.1 +/- 0.24 in blunt-trauma patients (p = 0.03). The patients with blunt trauma underwent further study. There was no significant difference in improvement of visual acuity in patients treated with surgical versus nonsurgical methods; however, 83 percent of patients without orbital fractures had improvement compared with 38 percent of patients with orbital fractures (p < 0.05). The mean improvement in patients without orbital fractures was 1.8 +/- 0.65 log MAR compared with 0.95 +/- 0.26 in patients with orbital fractures (p = 0.1). Twenty-seven percent of patients who had no light perception on presentation experienced improvement in visual acuity after treatment compared with 100 percent of patients who had light perception on admission (p < 0.05). The mean improvement in patients who were initially without light perception was 0.85 +/- 0.29 log MAR compared with 1.77 +/- 0.35 in patients who had light perception (p < 0.05). There were no significant differences in improvement of visual acuity when analyzing the effect of patient age and timing of surgery. Patients who sustain penetrating trauma have a worse prognosis than those with blunt trauma. The presence of no light perception and an orbital fracture are poor prognostic factors in visual loss following blunt facial trauma. It seems that clinical judgment on indication and timing of surgery, and not absolute criteria, should be used in the management of traumatic optic neuropathy.