What is Nystagmus?

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Nystagmus is an uncontrolled and involuntary movement of the eyes. The movement is often side to side (horizontal) but it can also be up and down (vertical) or circular (rotary). The movement can vary between slow and fast and almost always involves both eyes. If you have nystagmus you may not be aware of the movement of your eyes, as images will not necessarily appear shaky to you. Nystagmus is caused by a disturbance in the visual system that connects the eyes to those parts of the brain that analyze vision. Nystagmus may result in reduced or limited vision. It affects approximately one in two thousand people.


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There are two main types of nystagmus:


congenital nystagmus (also referred to as early onset nystagmus): this type of nystagmus always develops in childhood, usually between six weeks and threemonths of age.


acquired nystagmus: this type develops later in life and has a variety of causes, including an association with serious medical conditions. Unlike children with nystagmus, adults who acquire it may see images as shaky.



Normal vision vs. Nystagmus 


What are the symptoms of Nystagmus

The primary symptom of nystagmus is involuntary eye movement. Other symptoms may include:

  • sensitivity to light
  • dizziness
  • difficulty seeing in darkness
  • vision problems
  • holding the head in a turned or tilted position
  • feeling that the world is shaking


What to expect from Nystagmus

Nystagmus is almost always a permanent condition. Its severity may be reduced by different treatments. Improving vision with lenses or glasses is an important part of treating nystagmus. Other possible treatments for nystagmus are surgery and medications. Surgery can alleviate abnormal head positions or ease the severity of nystagmus. Medications can also be used to lessen the severity of nystagmus, but their use is often limited due to the many side effects they cause. Discuss the best option for your specific case with your eye care professional.


More information about Nystagmus

There is extensive information available about nystagmus. The information included is intended to inform you about the basics of this eye condition, and is not intended as a replacement for information from your physician or eye specialist. Information regarding assistive devices that can help you if you have been diagnosed with nystagmus is included. Our recommendations can be found under Tools and Resources.

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