Optic Nerve Head Drusen

Patient Experience

  • Reference Number: HEY1423-2023
  • Departments: Ophthalmology Department
  • Last Updated: 1 November 2023


This leaflet has been produced to give you general information. Most of your questions should be answered by this leaflet. It is not intended to replace the discussion between you and the healthcare team, but may act as a starting point for discussion. If after reading it you have any concerns or require further explanation, please discuss this with a member of the healthcare team.

What is optic nerve head drusen?

Optic nerve head drusen are abnormal deposits of protein and calcium in the optic nerve head, the part of the optic nerve that enters the eye. They are relatively common, affecting about 1% of the population. Drusen can be found on the surface of the optic nerve or buried beneath the surface. They usually occur in both eyes, but they can sometimes be present in only one eye.

What causes optic nerve head drusen?

The exact cause of optic nerve head drusen is unknown. In some cases, they are inherited, but in others, they occur without any family history.

Can this condition affect any of my family members?

Yes, optic disc drusen can occur as an inherited family trait and may affect close relatives. Patients diagnosed with optic disc drusen should consider discussing their diagnosis with their family members so that they undergo screening evaluation. Optic disc drusen usually do not show up in infants and children younger than 4 years.

What are the symptoms of optic nerve head drusen?

 Although the tendency to form optic disc drusen is present at birth, the deposits don’t actually become visible for several years. The drusen tend to develop slowly over time as the abnormal material collects in the optic nerve head and calcifies.

Most people with optic nerve head drusen do not have any symptoms. However, in some cases, drusen can cause vision problems, such as peripheral vision loss or central vision loss.

How is optic nerve head drusen diagnosed?

Optic nerve head drusen are usually diagnosed during a routine eye exam. The eye doctor will look at the back of the eye and may perform scans on the back of the eye including the optic nerve head.

What are the risks of optic nerve head drusen?

Optic nerve head drusen are generally harmless. However, in rare cases, they can lead to vision problems. People with optic nerve head drusen are also at slightly increased risk of developing other eye conditions, such as retinal vascular occlusion and non-arteritic anterior ischemic optic neuropathy (NAION).

What should I do if I have optic nerve head drusen?

If you have optic nerve head drusen, it is important to see your eye doctor to confirm the diagnosis and rule out other alternative conditions that can give a similar appearance. If optic nerve head drusen is confirmed, there is no proven way to treat it or to prevent the optic disc drusen from increasing in size.

Should you require further advice on the issues contained in this leaflet, please do not hesitate to contact the ophthalmology department  on tel: 01482 608788.

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