Nystagmus is a rapid, involuntary movement of one or both eyes. The movement is usually side-to-side (horizontal nystagmus), but it can also be up and down (vertical nystagmus), or circular (rotary or torsional nystagmus). Broadly speaking, there are two types of nystagmus:
- Congenital nystagmus, or infantile nystagmus syndrome, is present at birth and may be inherited.
- Acquired nystagmus develops later in childhood or adulthood, possibly due to a disease or an injury.
How common is nystagmus?
Congenital nystagmus is estimated to affect one in 5,000 newborns.
Who gets nystagmus?
Nystagmus affects people of all ages, but congenital nystagmus most often develops by two to three months of age.
Causes of nystagmus can include:
- Head trauma
- Central nervous system diseases, such as multiple sclerosis and brain tumors
- Certain medications, such as anti-epilepsy drugs
- Various eye disorders, such as cataracts, strabismus, nearsightedness, farsightedness, and astigmatism
- Inner ear problems, such as Meniere’s disease
- Drug or alcohol use
How is nystagmus diagnosed?
The following diagnostic tests may be used to determine whether you have nystagmus:
- Eye exam
- Neurological exam
- Imaging tests, such as a CT scan or an MRI scan
- Eye-movement recordings
- Sensitivity to light
- Difficulty seeing in darkness
- Problems with depth perception that can affect balance and coordination
- Holding your head in a turned or tilted position to improve vision
- Other vision problems
If you are having vision problems, contact a medical professional.
Nystagmus is often a permanent condition, but certain treatments may be able to reduce the severity:
- Glasses or contact lenses to improve associated vision problems
- Surgery on the muscles that move the eyes
- Taking medications
- Eliminating certain medications, drugs, or alcohol
- Treatment for underlying eye or medical problems that may be causing nystagmus
- Date of last review: January 11, 2017