Corticosteroids for treating optic neuritis

Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2012 Apr 18;4(4):CD001430. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD001430.pub3.


Background: Optic neuritis is an inflammatory disease of the optic nerve. It occurs more commonly in women than in men. Usually presenting with an abrupt loss of vision, recovery of vision is almost never complete. Closely linked in pathogenesis to multiple sclerosis, it may be the initial manifestation for this condition. In certain patients, no underlying cause can be found.

Objectives: To assess the effects of corticosteroids on visual recovery of patients with acute optic neuritis.

Search methods: We searched CENTRAL (which contains the Cochrane Eyes and Vision Group Trials Register) (The Cochrane Library 2012, Issue 1), MEDLINE (January 1950 to February 2012), EMBASE (January 1980 to February 2012), Latin American and Caribbean Literature on Health Sciences (LILACS) (January 1982 to February 2012), the metaRegister of Controlled Trials (mRCT) (, ( and the WHO International Clinical Trials Registry Platform (ICTRP) ( There were no date or language restrictions in the electronic searches for trials. The electronic databases were last searched on 21 February 2012. We also searched reference lists of identified trial reports to find additional trials.

Selection criteria: We included randomized trials that evaluated corticosteroids, in any form, dose or route of administration, in people with acute optic neuritis.

Data collection and analysis: Two authors independently extracted the data on methodological quality and outcomes for analysis.

Main results: We included six randomized trials which included a total of 750 participants. Two trials evaluated low dose oral corticosteroids while one trial evaluated low dose intravenous corticosteroids across two treatment arms and two trials evaluated a higher dose of intravenous corticosteroids. One three-arm trial evaluated low-dose oral corticosteroids and high-dose intravenous corticosteroids against placebo. Trials evaluating oral corticosteroids compared varying doses of corticosteroids with placebo. Hence, we did not conduct a meta-analysis of such trials. In a meta-analysis of trials evaluating corticosteroids with total dose greater than 3000 mg administered intravenously, the relative risk of normal visual acuity with intravenous corticosteroids compared with placebo was 1.06 (95% confidence interval (CI) 0.89 to 1.27) at six months and 1.06 (95% CI 0.92 to 1.22) at one year. The risk ratio of normal contrast sensitivity for the same comparison was 1.10 (95% CI 0.92 to 1.32) at six months follow up. We did not conduct a meta-analysis for this outcome at one year follow up since there was substantial statistical heterogeneity. The risk ratio of normal visual field for this comparison was 1.08 (95% CI 0.96 to 1.22) at six months and 1.02 (95% CI 0.86 to 1.20) at one year. Quality of life was assessed and reported in one trial.

Authors' conclusions: There is no conclusive evidence of benefit in terms of recovery to normal visual acuity, visual field or contrast sensitivity with either intravenous or oral corticosteroids at the doses evaluated in trials included in this review.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Acute Disease
  • Administration, Oral
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents / administration & dosage
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Contrast Sensitivity / drug effects
  • Dexamethasone / administration & dosage
  • Dexamethasone / therapeutic use
  • Glucocorticoids / administration & dosage
  • Glucocorticoids / therapeutic use*
  • Humans
  • Injections, Intravenous
  • Methylprednisolone / administration & dosage
  • Methylprednisolone / therapeutic use
  • Optic Neuritis / drug therapy*
  • Prednisone / administration & dosage
  • Prednisone / therapeutic use
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Visual Acuity / drug effects


  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents
  • Glucocorticoids
  • Dexamethasone
  • Prednisone
  • Methylprednisolone