Understanding Optic Nerve Functions and How to Test Them

Amisha Jain
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Dr. Kaushal

Review medical content on WOW Rx Pharmacy, so that accurate drug use information is easily accessible to everybody.
Dr. Akansha is a licensed Clinical Pharmacologist. She possesses remarkable knowledge in Pharmacovigilance, prescription analysis, drug information, and drug safety services. Additionally, she is a keen learner and an educator.

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optic nerve functions

The optic nerve is also called the second cranial nerve.

It is a cable-like group of fibers of nerve cells, also called Ganglion cells.

It is located at the back of the eye connecting it to the brain.

The optic nerve receives signals from nearly 125 million photoreceptors in response to light and sends them to the brain.

Any damage to the optic nerve might even lead to permanent vision loss.

Hence, knowing how the optic nerve functions become important.

Further in this article, you will learn about the functions of those optic nerves and the tests to check them.

Functions of the optic nerve

The main function of the optic nerve is to transmit visual information from the retina inside the eye to the brain’s visual centers.

The visual information includes:

  • Visual acuity
  • Brightness
  • Color perception

The rods and cones in the eyes pick up visual information whenever you see something.

Rods are sensitive to low light intensity and detect shades of gray.

Cones are sensitive to just high light intensity.

They don’t operate in poor light and help in detecting colors.

These cones are of three types- red, green, and blue.

This information is transmitted to the brain in the form of an electric impulse.

The right optic nerve sends impulses to the left cerebral hemisphere, while the left optic nerve sends impulses to the right.

The brain then translates the impulses into images in the head.

Apart from this, the optic nerve carries light and accommodation reflexes as well.

Light reflex

Also called pupillary light reflex, it refers to the reaction of the eyes to the intensity of light.

The reaction is typically observed through the change in the diameter of the pupil at different
brightness levels.

Your pupils dilate when the intensity of the light is low to let more light enter the eye.

On the other hand, they constrict in low light intensity so that less light enters the eye.

Accommodation reflex

The accommodation reflex is also known as the near response or accommodation-convergence reflex.

It is a coordinated change that occurs when you switch focus from a faraway object to a nearby object.

This is a three-part reflex that involves:

  • Constriction of the pupils
  • Thickening of the lens
  • Eye convergence (inward rotation of the eyes)

Tests to check optic nerve functions

a person being tested to check optic nerve functionsSource: peakSTOCK_from_Getty_Images
Optic Nerve Test

Damage to the optic nerve can cause vision problems.

Early diagnosis might help prevent the deterioration of the condition.

Recommended Reading:
To know more about what might cause damage to your optic nerve, read Understanding Optic Nerve Damage: Its Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment on WowRxPharmacy.

Here are some tests that are performed to check optic nerve function:

Visual acuity test

Visual acuity refers to recognizing shapes and other details of the things you see.

Doctors use it to determine the smallest size of the letters you can read on a standardized chart/card held 20 feet away.

It is often taken to test and detect vision problems to prevent them from worsening.

Snellen test and random E are the most commonly used tests to check visual acuity.

Color perception test

Also called the Ishihara color test, it measures the ability to differentiate between colors.

A poor result of this test might mean that you have poor color vision or you might be color blind.

Visual field test

It measures your central and peripheral vision.

This means it determines how wide you can see when your eyes focus on one central point.

This test can help to determine if you have any blind spots in your vision and its location.

These blind spots help determine the underlying condition, thereby assisting in the treatment procedure.

Pupillary light reflexes test

The pupillary light reflex test is yet another test to check optic nerve function.

Doctors perform this test to ensure your pupils respond appropriately to light or not.

They do so by moving a flashlight before your eyes and noticing how much your pupils constrict when exposed to bright light.

Less responsive pupils could be a sign of optic nerve damage.


Fundoscopy Optic Nerve Checkup

Fundoscopy is meant to check the fundus of the eye (back of the inside of the eye), which includes the retina and optic nerves.

The doctor uses a magnifying lens and light to see through the pupil, which has been dilated by medication.

This test helps check for eye conditions, including Glaucoma, optic nerve problems, Macular Degeneration, etc.


The optic nerve’s primary function is to transmit electrical impulses from the retina to the visual center of the brain.

This visual information includes visual acuity, brightness, and the perception of color.

In addition to this, the optic nerve carries light and accommodation reflexes as well.

Any damage to the optic nerve might cause vision problems.

Hence, timely identification and treatment could help prevent any irreversible damage.

Consult your doctor immediately if you experience any issues relating to your vision.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the optic nerve and its function?

The optic nerve is a bunch of over a million nerve fibers which carry visual messages to the brain. Its function is to transmit visual information from the retina inside the eye to the brain’s visual centers. The brain then translates the impulses into images in the head.

How do you assess optic nerve function?

Optic nerve function can be assessed using multiple tests. These include tests for visual acuity, color perception, visual field, pupillary light reflexes, and a fundoscopy.

What is the function of the myelin around the optic nerve?

Myelin is an insulating layer that wraps around nerve fibers. This layer makes it easier for the electrical signals to spread efficiently. A deficiency of myelin can cause significant vision issues.

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