What is Nystagmus?
Nystagmus is a complex eye condition that is characterised by involuntary movements of the eye. The eyes appear to wobble or flicker from side to side or up and down. Nystagmus is caused by abnormal functioning of the part of the brain which regulates eye movement and positioning.
Types of Nystagmus:
This type of nystagmus is noticed in very young children, usually soon after they’re born or in the first years of life. It can be caused by a problem with the eye itself or by a problem with the visual pathway from the eye to the brain.
This type of nystagmus develops later, generally in adults. Acquired nystagmus is often a sign of another condition like stroke, multiple sclerosis, brain tumour or the effect of a drug or head injury.
Diagnosing nystagmus can be the first sign of a serious disorder of the eye or brain. It’s really important that when nystagmus first develops, it’s checked by an ophthalmologist (hospital eye doctor) or neurologist as soon as possible.
Investigations will depend on the type of nystagmus you have, your age and what your doctor thinks the underlying cause is.
It’s very likely that an eye clinic will monitor the condition and this might mean seeing a number of different professionals.
The actual movement of the eyes in nystagmus can’t be cured but some things may help with managing your nystagmus.
- Glasses, contact lenses and low vision aids: these won’t correct nystagmus but having clearer vision can help slow eye movements.
- Surgery: Very occasionally surgery can be performed to alter the position of the muscles that move the eye so that it’s more comfortable for you to keep your head in the best position Surgery can’t correct or cure your nystagmus.
- Drugs: Drugs can sometimes be used in acquired nystagmus to help reduce your awareness of the constant eye movement.
- Bio feedback: Researchers have developed techniques to help you become more aware of your eye movements in order to control them. There’s no clear evidence that these techniques work but some people with nystagmus have reported good results.
Wobbly Wednesday Facts
- There are two main types of nystagmus – Congenital (present from birth) and acquired.
- People with nystagmus usually have a point where intensity of the nystagmus is decreased. This is called the null point, and they may adopt an abnormal head position to help maintain their eyes in this position.
- People with nystagmus usually have decreased vision and poor depth perception, this varies dramatically from person to person
- Botox (Botulinum toxin) injections can occasionally temporarily decrease the nystagmus by making use of the null point, surgery and medication is also possible in some cases
- Acquired nystagmus is normally caused by problems in the brain steam and is often seen in multiple sclerosis, stroke, and traumatic brain injuries. It can also be caused by excessive drug use.
- People with acquired nystagmus will see the world move as their eyes move (known as oscillopsia) whereas those with congenital nystagmus do not.
Videos about Nystagmus:
RNIB produced a short video where one of their members, Phil, described how his nystagmus affects his sight and how he manages with his eye condition day to day:
Video from Nystagmus Network:
Sources of information: