J. Biomedical Science and Engineering, 2013, 6, 15-19 JBiSE
http://dx.doi.org/10.4236/jbise.2013.610A2003 Published Online October 2013 (http://www.scirp.org/journal/jbise/)
Neuroretinitis: Update on a visual emergency and role of
technology in its diagnosis
Subashini Kaliaperumal1, Sunil Narayan2*
1Department of Ophthalmology, Jawaharlal Institute of Postgraduate Medical Education and Research, Pondicherry, India
2Department of Neurology, Jawaharlal Institute of Postgraduate Medical Education and Research, Pondicherry, India
Received 24 July 2013; revised 28 August 2013; accepted 15 September 2013
Copyright © 2013 Subashini Kaliaperumal, Sunil Narayan. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons
Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is
properly cited.
Neuroretinitis is one of the forms of optic neuritis
characterized by swelling of optic nerve head and
adjoining retinal nerve fiber layer resulting in a ma-
cular star configuration. The underlying pathophysi-
ology involves increased permeability of disc vascu-
lature, but the etiology is not fully defined. Neurore-
tinitis may occur due to an infectious process involv-
ing the disc, a postviral or autoimmune mechanism or
sometimes idiopathic. Technological advances like
ophthalmoscopy, slit-lamp examination, fluorescein
angiography, magnetic resonance imaging and im-
munodiagnostic tests all come handily and are often
imperative in making an accurate diagnosis. Condi-
tions mimicking neuroretinitis include papilledema,
anterior ischemic optic neuropathy, and infiltration
of the optic disc by tumor and systemic hypertension.
Neuroretinitis is usually a self-limited disorder with a
good visual prognosis. Treatment of neuroretinitis is
required only when there is an underlying infectious
or inflammatory condition.
Keywords: Neuroretinitis; Macular Star;
Ophthalmoscopy; Slit-Lamp; Fluorescein Angiography;
Magnetic Resonance Imaging
Theodor Leber way back in 1916 described this condi-
tion as stellate maculopathy [1]. Gass in 1977 coined the
term neuroretinitis [2]. Neuroretinitis is a particular form
of optic neuropathy characterised by acute unilateral
visual loss in the setting of optic disc swelling and hard
exudates arranged in a star figure around the fo vea [3]. It
affects persons of all ag es, although it occurs more of ten
in the third and fourth decades of life, with no gender
predilection [4,5]. It is mostly unilateral and may be
precipitated by various, known and unknown factors.
Neuroretinitis is a rare clinical entity often confused
with the more common papillitis or papilledema. The
fundus in these and other forms of opticneuropathy have
several common features and can be misdiagnosed by the
ill-experienced clinician and sometimes even by oph-
thalmologists and neurologists. However, there are cer-
tain diagnostic features of neuroretinitis. It is a distinct
clinical entity with a definite etiopathogenesis. Likewise
its management and prognosis too differs from fundo-
scopically similar entities such as papilled ema and papil-
litis, which are encountered more often in our clinical
Though the term neuroretinitis emphasizes clinical
involvement of both d isc and retina, th e patho gen ic locu s
is within the optic nerve head and macula is not the pri-
mary disease locus.
The clinical picture of neuroretinitis is characteristic and
distinct from other optic neuropathies. This condition is
usually painless but some patients complain of eye pain
that may worsen with eye movements as seen in optic
neuritis. If the neuroretinitis is due to an infectious pro-
cess, there may be associated fever, malaise or headache.
Patients usually present with a history of painless dimi-
nution of vision o f acute on set. It is usually unilateral b ut
may be bilateral in 5% - 30% of the cases [5]. Visual
acuity at presentation can range from 20/20 to light per-
ception and is mostly due to the macular edema. A rela-
tive afferent papillary defect is present and is especially
prominent in recurrent cases.
Fundus examination may show a few overlying vitre-
ous cells. Optic disc appears hyperemic and edematous
*Corresponding author.
S. Kaliaperumal, S. Narayan / J. Biomedical Science and Engineering 6 (2013) 15-19
with peripapillary and macular edema. Initially macula
has an opaque appearance due to edema. After 2 - 3
weeks the edema resolves leaving behind hard exudates.
Since the edema is mostly confined the outerplexiform
layer, macular star pattern of hard exudates forms (Fig-
ure 1). Sometimes cotton wool spots and splinter hae-
morrrhages may be seen. One feature commonly seen in
catscatch disease associated neuroretinitis is the presen ce
of yellow white deep retinal spots in the fundus. These
are believed to be areas of colonization by the organism
The pathogen esis of neuroretinitis is obscure. It is related
to direct involvement by aninfectious process or inflam-
mation leading to edema of the optic nerve and cellular
and fluid exudation from the inflamed area of peripa-
pillary retina. The target tissue of the inflammatory re-
sponse is the optic disc vasculature. Inflammation of the
disc capillaries causes leakage of fluid and proteins into
sub retinal space and outer plexifo rm layer. Resolution of
fluid component leaves behind lipid exudates as a ma-
cular star [4].
Neuroretinitis is thought to be an infectious or immune-
mediated process that may be precipitated by a number
of different agents. The common infections that cause
neuroretinitis are cat-scratch disease, and the spiroche-
toses especially syphilis [7], Lyme disease, and lepto-
spirosis [4]. Cat-scratch disease accounts for two thirds
of cases [8,9]. Additional causes include toxoplasmosis
[7], mumps [10], salmonella [11], tuberculosis [12], and
Figure 1. Neuroretinitis with vasculitis of the superotemporal
vessel (reproduced from “Sunil K Narayan, Subashini Kalia-
perumal, Renuka Srinivasan Neuroretinitis, a great mimicker.
Annals of Indian Academy of Neurology, Year 2008, Volume
11, Issue 2 [pp. 109-113] DOI: 10 .4103/0972-2327 .41879 PM ID :
19893649. by same authors with permission from publisher
Wolters Kluwer Medknow 6.7.13”).
Table 1. Etiology of neuroretinitis.
Idiopathic (25%)
1) Bartonella henselae (cat-scratch disease): most common
cause (60% of the cases)
2) Toxoplasma gondii ( toxoplasmosis)
3) Treponema pallidum (syphilis)
4) Borrelia burgdorf er i (Lyme disease)
5) Leptospira spp. (leptospirosis)
6) Mycobacterium tub erculosis (tubercul os is)
7) Histoplasma capsulatum (histoplasmosis)
8) Rickettsia typhi (mur ine t yphus)
9) Brucella spp. (brucellosis)
10) Viral etiologies: HIV, Varicella zoster virus, Herpes simplex
virus, rarely hepatitis B or C virus
11) Nematodes: DUSN (Diffuse Unilateral Subacute
Neuroretinitis) rarely
1) Sarcoidosis
2) Inflammatory bow el di sea se
3) IRVAN (Idiopathic Retinal Vasculitis, aneurysms and
neuroretinitis) syndrome
4) Poly arteritis nodosa
histoplasmosis. Rarely, a toxocaral granuloma within the
optic nerve head produces a similar ophthalmoscopic
picture [13]. Despite thorough evaluation, approximately
one quarter of cases remain idiopathic.
Neuroretinitis is commonly associated with an ante-
cedent viral syndrome, suggest i ng a possi ble viral etiology
for upto 50% of the cases; however viruses are rarely
cultured from the CSF of such patients, and serological
evidence of a concomitant viral infection is usually
lacking. Proposed causative viral agents include herpes
simplex, hepatitis B, mumps, and the herpes viruses as-
sociated with the acute retinal necrosis syndrome. HIV
with opportunistic infections especially syphilis and
Hepatitis viruses have been implicated in neuroretinitis
Multiple sclerosis is one condition that is not associated
with neuroretinitis [4]. It is a well known fact that pa-
tients who develop typical optic neu ritis are prone to de-
velop multiple sclerosis but there is no similar increased
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. OPEN ACCESS
S. Kaliaperumal, S. Narayan / J. Biomedical Science and Engineering 6 (2013) 15-19 17
tendency for patients who experience an attack of neu-
roretinitis [15]. Thus, when a diagnosis of an attack of
acute optic neuropathy as an episode of neuroretinitis
rather than anterior optic neuritis is made, it substantially
alters the neurologic prognosis in the patient being eva-
luated. Nevertheless, there have been anecdotal reports
of patients with multiple sclero sis who developed neuro-
retinitis [16].
Certain noninfectious and noninflammatory conditions
mimick neuroretinitis as they are characterised by optic
disc swelling that may on occasion be associated with the
development of a macular star figure. These mimicking
conditions include papilledema, anterior ischemic optic
neuropathy, and inflitration of the optic disc by tumor
[12]. Systemic hypertension may also produce both optic
disc swelling and a macular star figure (Figure 2). The
disk edema and retinopathy resolves after the hyperten-
sion is controlled [17]. Optic disc swelling in patients
with systemic vascular disease like diabetes and hyper-
tension can be differentiated form neuroretinitis by the
absence of abrupt visual loss, background retinopathy
and a medical history of such conditions. Spontaneous
resolution of the disc edema and recovery of visual
acuity serve as distinguishing features of neuroretinitis
from papilledema and ischemic o ptic neuropathy.
Investigation into the etiology of neuroretinitis should
begin with a careful history including questioning re-
garding sexually transmitted diseases, cat-scratches, skin
rashes, tick bites, lymphadenopathy, fever, and flu-like
illnesses. Complete physical and ocular ex aminations are
essential. Screening with serological testing for treatable
diseases such as cat-scratch disease, syphilis, and Lyme
disease, analysis of CSF, neuroimaging may be desirable
in the appropriate setting. In the absence of a proven
etiology a diagnosis of Leber’s idiopathic stellate neuro-
retinitis may be entertained.
Table 2. Differential diagnosis for disk edema with macular
star [4].
1) Hypertensive retinopathy
2) Papilledema
3) Anterior ischemic optic neuropathy
4) Diabetic papillopathy
5) Branch retinal vein occlusion/papillophlebitis
6) Optic disk tumor: melanocytoma, juxtapapillary angioma
Figure 2. Grade IV hypertensive retinopathy mimicking as
Neuroretinitis (reproduced from “Sunil K. Narayan, Subashini
Kaliaperumal, Renuka Srinivasan Neuroretinitis, a great mimicker.
Annals of Indian Academy of Neurology, Year 2008, Volume
11, Issue 2 [pp. 109-113] DOI: 10 .4103/0972-2327 .41879 PM ID :
19893649. by same authors with permission from publisher
Wolters Kluwer Medknow 6.7.13”).
Table 3. Suggested investigative workup in neuroretinitis.
Color vision, contrast sensitivity, central fields, fluorescein
angiography, VEP
Blood culture-cat scratch disease
VDRL and FTA-ABS-Syphilis
Viral serology
Mantoux, chest X ray
Lumbar Puncture—opening pressure, cells, proteins, glucose,
CSF culture for bacteria especially leptospirosis and fungi
Immunofluoresc ent a nt ib ody test-cat scratch disease
ELISA-toxoplasmosis, toxocariasis
Polymerase chain reaction—cat scratch disease
8.1. Ophthalmoscopy
Direct ophthalmoscopy is the primary method of evalua-
tion since this reveals striking changes in the optic fundi.
Indirect ophthalmoscopy may help more detailed stereo-
scopic evaluation of the optic disc and retina.
8.2. Visual Field Testing
The visual field can be plotted using the Tangent screen
or the Automated Humphrey perimetry. Typically the
visual field defect noted will be a central or centrocaecal
scotoma. Visual field defects are mainly due to maculo-
pathy than optic neuropathy [18]. The degree of colour
deficit is usually worse than the degree of visual loss
would suggest.
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S. Kaliaperumal, S. Narayan / J. Biomedical Science and Engineering 6 (2013) 15-19
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
8.3. Slit Lamp Biomicroscopy
The slit lamp is an invaluable tool in the examination of
the anterior segment and posterior segment of the eye.
The two main components of the modern slit lamp mi-
croscope are the illumina tion system and the observation
system. The illumination systems of today are capab le of
producing a homogenous, aberration-free beam of white
light. Most slit lamps use halogen bulbs to yield shorter
wavelengths of light which allow better visualization of
smaller structures. The observation system allows mag-
nification between 5× to 40×. A slit lamp’s resolution
depends on the wavelength used, the refractive index of
the eye and objective, the working distance and the dia-
meter of the objective lens. To visualize the optic disc
and the retina, as in neuroretinitis, special high convex
lenses such +90 Dioptre lens are used with the slit lamp
which allow stereoscopic view and give fine detail.
8.4. Fluorescein Angiography
Fluorescein angiography in patients with acute neurore-
tinitis demonstrates diffuse disc swelling and leakage of
dye from vessels on the surface of the disc. The retinal
vessels may show staining in the peripapillary region.
But the most important point to note is the absence of
leakage from the macular vasculature, which helps it to
be differentiated from papilledema resulting from in-
creased intracranial pressure.
8.5. Visual Evoked Potentials
VEP is useful in the setting of multiple sclerosis where
there is a latency of the P100 wave and a decrease in
amplitude. It may be abnormal in neuroretinitis.
8.6. Electroretinogram
ERG assesses the functional integrity of the retinal layers
and hence normal in disorders involving ganglion cells
and optic nerve as in optic neuritis and neuror etinitis.
Neuroretinitis is usually a self-limited disorder with a
good visual prognosis. Typically over 6 to 8 weeks, the
optic disc swelling resolves and the appearance of the
disc becomes normal or mildly pale. The macular exu-
dates appear late and progress over about 7 to 10 days,
then remain stable for several weeks before gradual re-
solution occurs over 6 to 12 months. Most patients ulti-
mately recover good visual acuity, although some com-
plain of persistent metamorphopsia or nonspecific blur-
red vision from mild disruption of the macular architec-
ture. In a series of Dreyer et al., visual acuity was 20/20
or better in 66% of cases, 20/25 to 20/40 in 31% [7].
Macular star resolves with time leaving behind RPE atro-
phic patches.
Most patients do not experience a subsequent attack in
the same eye, and only a few patients develop a similar
attack in the fellow eye. Neuroretinitis is a disease of
children and young adults and the occurrence of a similar
picture in an older individual should arouse suspicion for
a different diagnosis like ischemic optic neuropathy [6].
Treatment of neuroretinitis depends on whether there is
Table 4. Guidelines for treatment of neuroretinitis.
Idiopathic neuroretinitis
High dose oral corticoster oids
Consider broad-spectrum antibiotics while awaiting cat-scratch disease serology
Infectious neuroretinitis
Cat scratch fever: oral doxycycline (<8 years) or erythromycin and rifampin for 4 - 6 weeks. Long-term therapy with doxycycline or a macrolide
may be indicated in preventing recurrences in HIV-positive patients
Lyme disease: 2 - 4 week course of i.v. ceftriaxone
Syphilis: aqueous crystalline penicillin G: 18 - 24 million units per day, i.v. every 4 hours for 14 days
Toxoplasmosis: it is self-limiting disease in no n-AIDS patients and lesions heal in 6 - 8 weeks without any treatment
Varicella zoster: immediate institution of iv acyclovir therapy
Recurrent neuroretinitis
High dose intravenous or ora l s te roids
Taper oral steroids to 10 mg alternate days
Consider azathioprine for long term immunosupression
S. Kaliaperumal, S. Narayan / J. Biomedical Science and Engineering 6 (2013) 15-19 19
an underlying infectious or inflammatory condition that
requires therapy. No treatment is required in the idiopa-
thic group as the disease is self-limiting. Cat-scratch
disease is usually described as a benign, self-limited ill-
ness [19]. Patients with neuroretinitis associated with cat
scratch disease have been treated with prednisolone,
dexamethasone, clindamycin, ciprofloxacin, trimetho-
prim-sulfa, or tetracycline and all had improved vision
[20,21]. Doxycycline and rifampin appear to shorten the
course of disease and hasten visual recovery. Long-term
prognosis is good, but some individuals may acquire a
mild postinfectious optic neuropathy.
Patients with neuroretinitis and secondary or late sy-
philis should be treated with intravenous penicillin, and
patients with Lyme disease should also be treated with an
appropriate antibiotic such as ceftriaxone, amoxycillin,
or tetracycline. Though systemic steroids have been tried,
there is no definite evidence that such treatment alters
either the speed of recovery or the ultimate outco me. The
prognosis in most cases of idiopathic neuroretinitis is
excellent as it is self limiting [22].
Thus in most cases, neuroretinitis represents a self-lim-
iting, benign, systemic inflammatory process with rarely
a specific etiology being identified. The extent of diag-
nostic examination should be pred icted based on the p re-
sence or absence of associated constitutional symptoms.
Vision should be expected to recover within weeks to
months. Nevertheless, the ophthalmologist should use
caution in predicting ultimate v isual prognosis.
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