What is Nystagmus & How is it Treated? | Types and Symptoms of Nystagmus

What is Nystagmus?

Nystagmus is an involuntary, rapid movement of either one or both the eyes. It is often found occurring with a vision problem that includes blurriness.

What is Nystagmus?

Types of Nystagmus

Nystagmus occurs when there is improper functioning of that part of the brain and inner eye that regulates eye movements and positioning.

Labyrinth, the outer wall of the inner ear, helps sense movement and position and also helps control eye movements.

The condition can be either genetic or acquired.

Infantile Nystagmus Syndrome

Infantile nystagmus syndrome is congenital nystagmus, is an inherited genetic condition. It appears within the first six weeks to three months of the child’s life. A study found that congenital nystagmus can arise from electrical oscillation in the retina.(1)

Infantile nystagmus syndrome is a mild type of nystagmus and is not caused by any underlying health condition.

Most of the people with infantile nystagmus syndrome would not need any treatment and also would not have any complications later in their lives.

The vision problem due to it could range from mild to severe. Many would require a corrective lens or would have to go ahead with corrective surgery.

Acquired Nystagmus

Acquired nystagmus can occur anytime in life and can be due to an injury or a disease.

Anything that affects the labyrinth in the inner ear can lead to acquired nystagmus.

The possible causes of Acquired Nystagmus are:

  • Head injury or trauma
  • A disease of the eye
  • Stroke
  • Sedative and antiseizure medications
  • Excessive alcohol consumptions
  • B-12 or thiamine deficiency
  • A disease of the inner ear
  • Brain tumors
  • Central nervous system disease

Symptoms of Nystagmus

Fast and uncontrollable movement of the eye is the main symptom of nystagmus. The direction in which the eye movements can determine the type of nystagmus:

  • Side-to-side eye movement in horizontal nystagmus
  • Up and down eye movement in vertical nystagmus
  • Circular movements in rotary and torsional nystagmus
  • Depending on the cause the movement may occur in one or both the eyes.

How To Treat Nystagmus?

The treatment depends on whether the nystagmus is congenital or acquired. The eye movements are recorded. Ear and neurological examinations are also performed.

The ophthalmologist diagnoses the nystagmus by doing the eye examination. X-ray, CT scan and MRI are done to look for any structural abnormality in the brain that could cause nystagmus.

Treatment of Congenital Nystagmus

Congenital nystagmus does not require any treatment and the vision can be improved by wearing eyeglasses, contact lenses, and increasing the lighting around the house.

Most of the cases of this type of nystagmus lessen over a period of time without any treatment.

In severe cases, a surgery known as tenotomy is done to change the position of the eye muscle that controls eye movement. This surgery does not cure nystagmus but reduces the degree to which head is turned to improve vision.

Treatment of Acquired Nystagmus

In acquired nystagmus, the underlying cause is treated. The treatments include:

  • Medications
  • Correcting vitamin deficiencies by supplementing the diet with necessary vitamins and minerals
  • Antibiotics for inner ear
  • Eye drops for eye infections
  • Giving the patient specialized glasses or lens
  • Botulinum toxin for the treatment of severe disturbance in the vision
  • Brain surgery, to correct the central nervous system or brain disorders

Research found magnets implanted behind a person’s eye can help treat nystagmus.(2)

Tips To Live With Nystagmus

If a child has nystagmus, encourage him to use his eye. Bright colored and big toys are easy to use. Also, the toys with sound and unique textures would help.

Books with large prints can be of help and also there should be more lightening while reading books.

Let the child hold the books near to the eye with head tilted. The child can wear hat or tinted glasses to reduce glare.

Speak with the teacher on how to make it comfortable for the child in school. Let him choose where to sit so that he can comfortably view the teacher and the board.

Nystagmus never goes away completely. It may or may not improve over time, with or without treatment.

It might make the daily tasks more challenging and also limit the type of occupation and hobbies. Those with very poor eyesight might even need a help to carry out daily activities.