Nystagmus is a type of involuntary movement of the eyes. It is usually side-to-side (horizontal nystagmus) , but sometimes is up and down (vertical nystagmus) or in a circular fashion (rotatory nystagmus). The movement varies between slow and fast and usually involves both eyes. In infancy, it tends to develop between six weeks and three months of age and is called infantile nystagmus. It can also be acquired later in life and is called acquired nystagmus.
The direct cause of nystagmus is instability in the motor system that controls the eyes. In some cases, the cause of nystagmus is unknown.
There are a number of factors or conditions that increase the risk of this instability, including:
Other symptoms besides the eye movements may include:
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. If nystagmus seems to be present, you may need:
Tests may include the following:
The ophthalmologist will also look for other eye problems that may be related to the nystagmus, such as strabismus, cataracts, or abnormality of the optic nerves or retina.
The ear specialist will look for signs of ear infection, and for worsening of the nystagmus with head positions.
Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Removal of the cause of nystagmus can sometimes eliminate the problem, for example discontinuing a medication or stopping alcohol or drug use. However, nystagmus often is a permanent condition that can only be reduced and not eliminated. Treatment options to reduce nystagmus and improve vision include the following:
Low-vision aids can often help improve vision. They may include large print or high contrast materials, good lighting, and magnifying devices.
American Academy of Ophthalmology
American Nystagmus Network
The Canadian Association of Optometrists
Canadian Ophthalmological Society
Eye facts about nystagmus. American Nystagmus Network website. Available at: http://www.nystagmus.org/aao.html. Accessed February 18, 2013.
General information about nystagmus. American Nystagmus Network website. Available at: http://www.nystagmus.org/aboutn.html. Accessed February 18, 2013.
Hertle RW. Understanding and treatment of infantile nystagmus syndrome. Presentation at the 4th Biennial Conference of the American Nystagmus Network, Los Angeles, CA. July 8-10, 2005. American Nystagmus Network website. Available at: http://www.nystagmus.org/doc/conf2005/hertle_ANN.pdf. Accessed February 18, 2013.
Nystagmus. American Academy of Ophthalmology eyeSmart website. Available at: http://www.geteyesmart.org/eyesmart/diseases/nystagmus.cfm. Accessed February 18, 2013.
Maybodi M. Understanding nystagmus: diagnosis, related disorders, treatment, and research. Presentation at the 3rd Biennial Conference of the American Nystagmus Network, Baltimore, MD. July 11-13, 2003. Available at: http://www.nystagmus.org/doc/conf2003/KEYNOTE.pdf. Accessed February 18, 2013.
Last reviewed March 2013 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.