Nystagmus: Involuntary Eye Movements

Nystagmus is an eye disorder that causes involuntary and rhythmic eye movements. The involuntary movements make it hard for a person to keep the eyes fixed and focused on an object making it difficult to do everyday tasks.

Types of Nystagmus

Nystagmus is comparatively rare and only affects 2-3 out of every 1,000 people. Most forms of nystagmus have a neurological cause but some are associated with the inner ear. Two types of nystagmus are:

  • Pendular nystagmus (optokinetic) — is commonly caused by an underlying condition in the eyes or nervous system.
  • Jerk nystagmus (vestibular) — is a much less common form associated with the vestibular system in the inner ear or brain

Between these two types, nystagmus can further be categorized by these classifications:

  • Congenital (infantile) nystagmus starts from birth or within the first 6 months of life.
  • Spasmus nutans are most commonly experienced by children from 6 months to 3 years old that usually go away on their own between 2 and 8 years old.
  • Acquired nystagmus occurs at any age as the result of a disease, neurological problem, or accident.
  • Manifest nystagmus is visibly present at all times.
  • Latent nystagmus is visibly present only with one eye covered.
  • Manifest-latent nystagmus is visibly present at all times but becomes worse with one eye covered.
  • Gaze-evoked nystagmus (GEN) is the most common subtype of nystagmus where movements are only visible when the eyes are held in extreme positions away from the center.


Causes of Nystagmus

Triggers that can induce nystagmus upon exposure include:

  • Nicotine (Smoking)
  • Hyperventilation
  • Alcohol
  • Vibrations (in rare cases)
  • Flashing lights in front of one eye

Symptoms of Nystagmus

One symptom is certain to be present in whatever cause which is involuntary eye movements. Secondary symptoms often include:

  • Dizziness
  • Blurred vision
  • Increased light sensitivity
  • Balance problems
  • Holding the head in unusual positions
  • Reduced night vision
  • Oscillopsia – a feeling that stationary objects or environments are always moving


Treating Nystagmus

Aside from childhood nystagmus which often goes away on its own, nystagmus can be difficult to treat. Prescription glasses and contact lenses can help people suffering from nystagmus see better. Contacts are normally preferred since the center of the lens moves along with each eye.

Some nystagmus patients find biofeedback therapy to help for better control of bodily functions that are usually involuntary. Medication or surgery can also help in some forms of nystagmus.

Some cases of nystagmus have a better shot of being treated than other cases. Routine eye appointments are essential in monitoring eye problems like nystagmus. If you notice any irregular movements in your child’s eye, schedule an appointment with an eye doctor immediately.

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