What is Nystagmus?

Nystagmus is a condition in which the eyes make uncontrolled back and forth movements. These eye movements can occur from side to side, up and down, or in a circular pattern. People with nystagmus might hold their heads in unusual positions to compensate for the condition. In children, these movements may or may not affect vision. In adults, these movements can affect vision, balance, and coordination.

What causes nystagmus?

Some patients are born with nystagmus, and no specific cause is found; these patients can have normal vision. In others, nystagmus can be a symptom of another eye or medical problem. In infants, nystagmus can sometimes occur due to problems with the eyes such as cataracts or problems with other parts of the eye. Nystagmus can also occur alongside other medical conditions such as albinism. In older children and adults, nystagmus can be caused by more serious conditions such as nutritional deficiencies, alcohol/drug use, certain medications, strokes, multiple sclerosis, or even brain tumors.

How is nystagmus diagnosed?

The first step in diagnosing nystagmus is for the ophthalmologist to get a full medical history and eye examination. In some patients, additional evaluations such as a neurological exam, brain imaging, or other tests like an electroretinogram (a test that tests the response of cells in the eye) may be recommended. In some patients, no additional testing is necessary. 

How is nystagmus treated?

Treatment for nystagmus depends on the cause. Many patients who are born with nystagmus do not need any treatment. For nystagmus caused by other medical conditions, it is important to treat the original condition. Other treatments for nystagmus may include medications, eyeglasses, and/or eye surgery.