Nystagmus is a condition in which the eyes move around uncontrollably and the sufferer is not able to focus their eyes on command. The Nystagmus definition specifies that the eyes make repetitive movements that are not controlled. These movements can be circular, side to side, or up and down. Vision is often unclear due to the eyes’ inability to focus. The condition rarely occurs as a stand-alone condition and is often a symptom of another condition or illness. There are several types of Nystagmus including infantile, spasmus nutans, acquired, latent, and manifest.
Infantile: This type develops by the time that a baby is 3 months old. The eyes generally move from side to side with this type of nystagmus. It is often associated with other infantile eye conditions.
Spasmus nutans: This type develops in children between six months and three years of age. This is a temporary form of nystagmus that clears up on its own during adolescence. Children with spasmus nutans often tilt or nod their heads in an attempt to see more clearly – this can be a tell-tale sign for parents and teachers.
Acquired: This type develops later on and the cause is not always obvious.
Latent: This type occurs only when one eye is covered. When both eyes are uncovered they are generally able to function normally.
Manifest: This type is always present. Whether both eyes are open or only one eye is in use the symptoms remain the same.
Nystagmus is often present at birth or develops early in life due to neurological conditions. Acquired nystagmus is often due to trauma or disease. Other causes include inner ear problems, albinism, high refractive error, certain medications, or cataracts.
There is no nystagmus test that doctors do specifically just to diagnose the condition. Your eye doctor will likely perform a normal eye exam including obtaining your medical history, testing refraction, visual acuity, and testing how the eyes move and focus. As nystagmus is often a symptom of another medical condition, your eye doctor may refer you to see your primary care physician as well.
There are several options for treating nystagmus, including surgery, medication, and eyeglasses or contact lenses. Surgery on the eye’s muscles can help to strengthen the eyes and change the muscles position on the eyes to reduce the rapid, uncontrolled movements of nystagmus. There are also certain medications, such as Botox, that can help to temporarily reduce symptoms. Wearing eyeglasses or contact lenses to correct refractive error can also improve vision. It can be helpful to read large print books, increase the text size on computers and cell phones, or use a magnifying device to make focusing a bit easier on the eyes. Increasing lighting can also be helpful. If your nystagmus is caused by an underlying medical condition, treating that condition is the first step to treating your nystagmus.
If you suspect that your child may suffer from nystagmus it is important to have both their eye doctor and pediatrician examine them to determine the cause of the condition and what treatments, if any, are necessary. Similarly, if you develop nystagmus as an adult it is important to determine the cause to determine your next steps in treatment.