Nystagmus (uncontrolled eye movement)

What is nystagmus?

Nystagmus is an ophthalmologic pathology that consists of an involuntary and repetitive movement of the eyes. The speed of the movement can vary between fast and slow, and in general, both eyes are affected. Nystagmus can be classified into different groups:

  • Neurological nystagmus is related to the central nervous system, it can occur due to different pathologies such as brain tumors or multiple sclerosis.
  • Idiopathic nystagmus appears during infancy, usually during the first 6 months of life. It is caused by a congenital defect in the neurological system that stabilizes the gaze.
  • Sensory nystagmus is caused by a profound visual deficit during the early stages of growth. It is frequently caused by congenital cataracts and early retinal diseases.

Symptoms of nystagmus

The most visible symptom is the involuntary movement of the eyeball. However, the main symptom is poor vision, especially in idiopathic nystagmus, as it is more difficult to fixate the gaze correctly on the object and for the image to be projected sharply onto the retina. Because of this problem, the eye does not develop properly.

In acquired nystagmus, a pathology called oscillopsia may also occur, which consists of the sensation that the environment is moving around.

In some cases, there is a position in the gaze in which the movement is minimal or almost disappears. It is called neutral or blocking zone and can produce torticollis in the patient, since he/she moves the head and looks for the eyes to be in that position.

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What are the causes of nystagmus?

The causes may be congenital, either by the presence of genetic conditions or by congenital diseases of the eye. In addition, there may be other causes such as the intake of certain medication, hereditary factors, accident injuries, inner ear problems, drug or alcohol abuse, etc.

Can it be prevented?

It is not possible to avoid this type of pathology. However, it is important to control alcohol consumption. It is also important to have annual ophthalmological check-ups and to undergo visual examinations.

What is the treatment?

Treatment varies according to the type of nystagmus, since it depends on the pathology that has caused it. There are some medications that can reduce movement, as well as botulinum toxin, which is intended to have a “paralysis” effect, although sometimes both treatments can produce side effects. It is interesting to consult with a specialist in this pathology.

In case of torticollis, glasses with prisms and surgery on the muscles can help to improve the position of the head, as it shifts the blocking area to the forward position. It may also reduce the intensity of the nystagmus.