Primer on Nystagmus

Nystagmus (pronounced “ni-stag-muss”) is a condition where the eyes of an individual will undergo uncontrollable rapid movement

The movement can be side to side, up and down, circular, or any combination of the three. It can also occur in both eyes independent of each and can vary in speed. Due to the complexity and recalcitrant behavior, the vision that the patient may experience can be affected. Most will find that they have a reduction in sight.

There are two main types of nystagmus: congenital (or infantile) and acquired. 

Congenital nystagmus occurs in infants within the first few months of their birth. Rather than seeing things as “shaky”, most children will have their vision blurred. Causes may be due to problems in the development of the eyes of regions of the brain that affect the visual system. Some will also find that the condition is inherited from their parents or the byproduct of a different medical condition. There are also those with “idiopathic infantile nystagmus”, which is when the cause is unidentifiable. 

Acquired, on the other hand, is found later in life and can be caused by anything that affects the function of the eye. This can range from eye diseases to seemingly unconnected illnesses to lifestyle choices. Adults with acquired nystagmus will often describe their vision as “shaky”.

The main symptom associated with nystagmus is uncontrollable eye movement. In addition, this can lead to various other problems:

  • Long or shortsightedness 
  • Light sensitivity
  • Dizziness 
  • Headaches
  • Poor depth perception
  • Poor balance

Unfortunately, there is currently no cure for nystagmus. 

However, it is possible to reduce the effects associated. Glasses can be worn to help with reduced vision and larger text sizes can greatly aid children who are learning to read. 

Some people may also find that they have a “null zone”. This is a point at which the involuntary eye movement is reduced and could involve maintaining the head at a tilted position. 

Operations can help reduce the necessity for these awkward positions and studies have been done to test the possibility and efficacy of altering or enlarging a patient’s “null zone” through surgical intervention. There has also been research into the use of non-surgical intervention methods such as contact lenses and prisms.