Optic neuritis (ON) is linked to multiple sclerosis (MS). The presence of white matter lesions on cerebral magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) predicts the risk of MS after ON with considerable accuracy. Oligoclonal bands (OCB) are present in 95 % of MS patients, and a lumbar puncture can also be valuable in the evaluation of patients with ON. We analyzed CSF findings in patients referred with ON in the context of MRI and visual evoked potential (VEP) pathology. We assessed the possible contributory role of a lumbar puncture and weigh this against disadvantages of the procedure. Between February 2003 and November 2011, 505 patients were referred by ophthalmologists to the Clinic of Optic Neuritis, Glostrup Hospital, University of Copenhagen. None had MS prior to referral. A total of 437 were included in the study, and all underwent MRI, a lumbar puncture and VEP. Patients with other organic causes of their symptoms and patients with >3 months between onset and tests were excluded. All files were reviewed retrospectively. CSF leukocytes and the IgG index were elevated in 33 and 41 %, respectively, and OCBs were detected in 61 % of patients. CSF abnormalities correlated strongly with VEP and MRI (p < 0.0001). Patients with normal VEP and MRI had a 96 % probability of a normal lumbar puncture. The contributory role of a lumbar puncture in the evaluation of ON seems negligible when patients have a normal VEP and MRI. We suggest that all patients should be evaluated with VEP and MRI before deciding on a lumbar puncture.