Nystagmus – Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, And Treatment
What is nystagmus?
Nystagmus is a condition of rapid, repetitive, uncontrolled, involuntary eye movements. The eye movements can be side to side, up and down, or circular. This condition can happen in one eye or both eyes. Nystagmus can lead to reduced vision and depth perception.
There are two forms of nystagmus. One is infantile nystagmus, which is congenital (present at birth). The other one is acquired nystagmus, which develops later in life because of a disease or injury.
What causes nystagmus?
Nystagmus is caused by abnormal function in the areas of the brain that control eye movements.
Infantile nystagmus is commonly caused by a neurological problem that is present at birth or develops in early childhood.
The most common cause of acquired nystagmus is certain drugs or medicines, excessive alcohol, or any sedating medicine can impair the labyrinth’s function.
Acquired nystagmus is also caused when areas of the brain that control eye movements are damaged. This damage can occur due to any disease of the brain, such as stroke, multiple sclerosis or brain tumor.
The following are the other causes of nystagmus:
- Head injury from motor vehicle accidents
- Inner ear disorders such as labyrinthitis or Meniere’s disease
- Thiamine or vitamin B12 deficiency
What are the symptoms of nystagmus?
Rapid, involuntary eye movement is the main symptom of nystagmus. The following are the other symptoms:
- Holding the head in a tilted or turned position
- Sensitivity to light
- Vision problems
- Trouble seeing in the dark
- The feeling that everything around is shaking
How is nystagmus diagnosed?
The doctor will perform a thorough physical examination with a special focus on the nervous system and inner ear. He/she will review your symptoms and medical history. The doctor will examine your eyes after asking the patient to wear magnifying goggles.
The doctor may use the following procedure to check for nystagmus:
- You spin around for about 30 seconds, stop, and try to stare at an object.
- Your eyes will first move slowly in one direction and then will move quickly in the opposite direction.
The doctor may order the following tests:
- MRI of the head
- CT scan of the head
- Electro-oculography (to measure eye movements)
- Vestibular testing
How is nystagmus treated?
There is no treatment for most cases of infantile nystagmus.
Acquired nystagmus is treated depending on the cause. In some cases, treatment cannot reverse the nystagmus. In cases due to medicines or infection, the nystagmus usually goes away after the cause has gotten better.
The following treatments may help improve the visual function and head posture in people with infantile nystagmus:
- Surgery such as tenotomy
- Drug therapies
This feature is for informational purposes only and is not intended to substitute the expert guidance of a doctor. We advise seeing a doctor if you have any health concerns.