What Causes Nystagmus?

There are two main categories of nystagmus, congenital and acquired. This condition is one in which the eyes make repetitive, uncontrollable movement, which often leads to other vision issues, such as problems with depth perception, balance, and coordination. The causes of nystagmus can vary depending on category.

  • Infantile Congenital Nystagmus — Infantile congenital nystagmus has usually developed by 2-3 months, and the eyes tend to swing horizontally. While the exact cause of this nystagmus condition is sometimes unclear, it is often related to other conditions like albinism, the absence of the iris, and undeveloped optic nerves.
  • Spasmus nutans — This condition is usually diagnosed in children six months – 3 years old and can improve on its own. The eyes can move in any direction but usually does not require
  • Acquired Nystagmus — This condition will occur later in life, after childhood. The initial cause of this nystagmus category is often unknown but can be due to issues in the central nervous system, drug toxicity, alcohol, or metabolic disorders. Acquired nystagmus can also be a symptom of another disease or condition, such as multiple sclerosis, stroke, or head trauma.

While the cause of acquired nystagmus is often unclear to the diagnostician, there are some known origins of nystagmus, including albinism, congenital cataracts, inner ear inflammation, anti-epilepsy medications, and central nervous system diseases.

How Do Doctors Diagnose Nystagmus?

If you think you or your child have symptoms of nystagmus, it’s important to see an optometrist to determine possible nystagmus causes and treatments. They’ll perform a comprehensive eye exam inside your eyes and test your vision. Issues related to nystagmus include strabismus, cataracts, and issues with retinas and optic nerves.

There are several tests commonly used to diagnose nystagmus, including:

  • Ear Exam
  • Neurological Exam
  • Brain MRI
  • Brain CT Scan
  • Recording Eye Movement

How Is Nystagmus Treated?

If you’ve acquired nystagmus as an adult, there are several ways to reduce the effects on your eyes. If your nystagmus is caused by drugs or alcohol, reducing intake can lessen the effect. Wearing contacts or glasses can also help, while for some people, vision therapy and/or prism glasses can help stabilize the nystagmus. In certain cases, eye muscle surgery can be a viable option, assisting with eye movements and head tilt. You can also consider medications like gabapentin, Botox, or baclofen, which can ease symptoms. With the care of the right doctor, the causes and symptoms of nystagmus can be well treated and managed every day. If you think you or a loved one may have nystagmus, get in touch with OCVT for a complementary consultation today to begin identifying the best path of treatment.

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