Nystagmus: a movement of the eyes

Nystagmus is a back-and-forth movement of the eyes. It can be of pendulum type (when the oscillations of the eyes are similar) or spring type (the oscillations have a slow and a fast phase). There are also different types: horizontal, vertical or oblique.

This back-and-forth movement of the eyes can be triggered by neurological diseases (neurological nystagmus), otological diseases (labyrinthine nystagmus) and ocular diseases (ocular nystagmus).

Causes and consequences of nystagmus

Nystagmus of ocular origin is usually congenital and therefore present in the first days of life. It may be isolated or associated with other organic lesions (cataracts, retinal lesions, etc.) or functional lesions (strabismus).

The consequence of nystagmus mainly affects vision which will be greatly diminished in the case of pendular nystagmus and partially affected in cases of spring nystagmus. In the latter case, the association with torticollis is usually the rule and thanks to it, the eyes stop moving in this position and the vision is better.

Treatment of nystagmus

There is no cure for nystagmus. However, in cases with torticollis or associated with strabismus, the ophthalmologist may perform a combined intervention to resolve both the strabismus and the vicious head position. In cases where the nystagmus is associated with a major refractive error, the use of contact lenses may improve vision.

In cases of compensatory torticollis greater than 10-15 degrees, surgery should be performed to try to straighten the head, which not only improves the patient’s quality of life but also prevents disorders of the cervical spine. The intervention should preferably be performed before the age of five years.