What are the Causes of Nystagmus?

Close up of older woman's eye.
  • Nystagmus is a medical condition characterized by involuntary eye movements that can affect one or both eyes and ranges from mild to severe.

  • Signs of nystagmus may include reduced vision, light sensitivity, and poor depth perception.

  • This condition can be caused by abnormal nerve development in the womb or external factors like trauma or disease. It’s important to seek medical attention if you develop signs of nystagmus for a proper evaluation and diagnosis.

What is Nystagmus?

Nystagmus is a medical condition that causes rapid, repetitive, and uncontrolled eye movements.

This condition can affect one or both eyes and vary from mild to severe.

What are the Signs of Nystagmus?

The most common nystagmus symptoms include uncontrollable eye movement, which make it difficult to focus on objects.

If you have nystagmus, you may also experience reduced or blurry vision, sensitivity to light, and poor depth perception.

Another common sign of nystagmus is constant head tilting or turning to compensate for the eye movements that affect balance and coordination. Severe cases of nystagmus may also cause additional symptoms like dizziness and nausea.

How Do You Get Nystagmus?

Nystagmus can either be present from birth or can be acquired later in life.

Individuals with nystagmus from birth often have this condition due to a genetic mutation. This is also the most common cause of nystagmus, affecting one in 1,000 Americans.

It can be caused by abnormal development of the muscles responsible for controlling movement.

Nystagmus that is only acquired later can be caused by a number of factors, including:

  • Neurological conditions like multiple sclerosis (MS)
  • Trauma or injury to the eyes
  • Stroke
  • Head injury that affected the eyes
  • Inner ear problems or disorders like Meniere’s disease
  • Medications like antiseizure drugs
  • Underlying health conditions like retina or optic nerve disorders
  • Alcohol or drug use
Close up of an eye with optic nerve damage.

Are There Different Types of Nystagmus?

There are three different types of nystagmus, characterized by the way the condition develops. These include:

  • Congenital nystagmus: When a person has had the condition since birth due to abnormalities that occurred when their eyes developed in the womb.

  • Acquired nystagmus: Individuals who develop uncontrollable eye movements later in life. This can happen because of neurological conditions, trauma, or disease.

  • Sensory and motor nystagmus: Visual conditions or nerve abnormalities that affect how you control eye movements. It can be triggered by retina or optic nerve damage and by rapid changes in gaze direction.

Can You Treat Nystagmus?

There is currently no way to cure nystagmus completely. However, there are various treatment options that can help you manage your condition and improve your quality of life.

For congenital nystagmus, treatment options are limited but typically include visual aids that help correct refractive errors. When these errors are minimized, vision may improve.

If acquired nystagmus develops, it can usually be treated by addressing the underlying condition affecting the eye movements.

This may involve prescription medication and vision therapy that includes exercises to improve eye coordination.

In severe cases, surgery may also be necessary to correct abnormal head postures to reduce the intensity of nystagmus.

A nystagmus diagnosis could also have a negative psychological impact on a person’s life. Doctors may recommend therapy or other related treatment options to help manage health-related stress and anxiety.

The treatment approach that is best for you will depend on the severity, underlying cause, and type of nystagmus you have.

Should You Be Worried if You Develop Nystagmus?

Nystagmus is generally considered a mild or nonmalignant condition that isn’t usually dangerous.

However, it can be uncomfortable to live with and may affect your quality of life. If you develop signs of nystagmus, it may also be an indication of underlying health conditions.

It’s essential to speak to your healthcare provider as soon as possible for proper evaluation and diagnosis.

A man is looking into an eye exam chart.

When Should You Seek Medical Attention?

Seeking medical attention for nystagmus depends on a number of factors, including the type, severity, and duration of the condition.

It’s recommended that you see your doctor if you experience any of the following:

  • Changes in your eye movements
  • Persistent signs of nystagmus that don’t improve
  • New visual impairments such as blurry or double vision
  • Unexplained dizziness, vertigo, or hearing loss
  • Difficulties performing everyday activities like reading and driving

Many of the signs of nystagmus may also indicate an underlying medical condition like MS or nerve disorders that require professional treatment.

If you’ve developed nystagmus, it’s important to speak with your doctor about your diagnosis and treatment options as soon as possible to prevent further complications.

Where Can You Learn More About Nystagmus and Similar Conditions?

If you suspect that you have nystagmus or are concerned about any of your symptoms, you can speak to a board-certified physician or nurse from the comfort of your home.

Head over to LifeMD to schedule a telehealth appointment.

Shanta Williams, APRN

Shanta is a board-certified, multi-state NP who has worked in healthcare for over 14 years. She earned her M.S. in Family Nurse Practitioning. In 2020, she was one of the first Nurse Practitioners to assist with the COVID-19 outbreak in New York.

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This article is intended for informational purposes only and should not be considered medical advice. Consult a healthcare professional or call a doctor in the case of a medical emergency.

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