What is Nystagmus?

Adam Hill

Nystagmus is the word used to describe an involuntary movement of the eyes. It is characterized by a slow, sweeping movement in one direction, followed by the eye snapping back quickly in the other direction. It most often includes both eyes, and can be exaggerated when the person moves his eyes to look in a certain direction. The presence of the nystagmus condition can be benign and harmless, or it can be an indication of a pathology, or an underlying problem. There are many classifications of nystagmus, depending on the reason for its presence as well as the time of life in which it becomes apparent.

Nystagmus could signal either a benign or a pathological eye ailment.
Nystagmus could signal either a benign or a pathological eye ailment.

Some types of nystagmus are actually considered normal. For example, when a person looks far toward one direction, a minor twitching of the eye muscles to bring the eye back toward the center is not uncommon or a cause for concern. Most other varieties result either from disease, trauma, or neurological disorders.

The overuse of some antidepressants and barbiturates can trigger nystagmus.
The overuse of some antidepressants and barbiturates can trigger nystagmus.

Congenital nystagmus is present at birth, and is usually discovered when the child is at a very young age. In this case, it is usually called manifest nystagmus if it is present at all times, or latent nystagmus if it happens only when one eye is covered. There is also manifest-latent nystagmus, somewhat of a combination of the two, where it is always present to some degree, but worsens when one eye is covered. In some cases, it presents as an isolated issue, and is not connected with any other problems.

Multiple sclerosis is one of the many conditions that may cause nystagmus.
Multiple sclerosis is one of the many conditions that may cause nystagmus.

If the condition is not present at birth, but is brought on by some event later in life, it is referred to as acquired nystagmus. In this case, there is most often some type of neurological problem at the root of it. Some of the many conditions which may cause nystagmus are multiple sclerosis, brain tumors, and Wernicke's encephalopathy. The abuse of harmful or controlled substances such as phencyclidine (PCP), lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), barbiturates, lithium, and anti-depressants can also bring it on.

Contact lenses may help with the treatment of nystagmus.
Contact lenses may help with the treatment of nystagmus.

Traditionally, it has been thought that congenital nystagmus could not be treated, but some drugs developed in recent years have shown some potential for treating it. Other treatments that do not involve drugs have worked for some who suffer from it, and these include contact lenses, low vision rehabilitation, and certain surgical treatments. No single treatment has been found to be a comprehensive cure, but more drugs and surgical corrective techniques continue to be developed.

Some people may be good candidates for surgery to correct nystagmus, dependent on the underlying cause.
Some people may be good candidates for surgery to correct nystagmus, dependent on the underlying cause.
Congenital nystagmus will be present at birth, and will likely be discovered at a young age.
Congenital nystagmus will be present at birth, and will likely be discovered at a young age.
Neurological disorders may cause nystagmus.
Neurological disorders may cause nystagmus.

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Discussion Comments

lovealot

I've always been astounded to realize how many different causes there are for the same medical condition. When I was studying nursing, I remember studying this eye condition.

There are many causes for this condition called nystagmus. It can be congenital,caused by head injuries, stroke, multiple sclerosis, brain tumors, reaction to use of some illegal drugs, and use of some anti-depressants.

This is what doctors know about the cause for these eye movements. Rapid eye movements are a malfunction of the part of the brain that controls eye movements. A part of the inner ear also helps with sensing the movement of the eyes. Unfortunately, not too much is known about what malfunction actually happens when someone has nystagmus.

PinkLady4

This condition of the eyes sounds like it could be very annoying, the shifting back and forth of the eyes without having control over the movement.

I did some reading on this subject. I found out that people with nystagmus have involuntary movements that go back and forth, up or down, or around, as in a circle.

I remember a boy I knew in elementary school. He had nystagmus. His mom and sister used to call him "dancing eyes." He didn't seem to notice that his eyes were moving around uncontrollably. I don't think he ever had surgery or any other treatment. He just lived with it.

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