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What is Nystagmus? – Bard Optical

What is Nystagmus?

Blurred traffic and car lights on bridge

Nystagmus is a vision condition in which the eyes make repetitive and uncontrollable movements. The result of this is impaired vision, depth perception, balance, and coordination.

These eye movements can occur from side to side, up and down, and even in a circular motion.

While the exact cause of nystagmus is often unknown, it is usually a symptom of a different medical problem. Stress can often worsen nystagmus.

There are two basic types of nystagmus:

  1. Jerk nystagmus – This is when the eyes make a quick movement in one direction immediately followed by a slow movement in the opposite direction.
  2. Pendular nystagmus – The eye movement is equal in velocity in both directions.


Types Of Nystagmus

Nystagmus can be specified into several different classes, correlated by when the condition was contracted, severity, and several other factors.

  • Congenital Nystagmus – This type is present at birth, and because of this, it is most closely related to strabismus. With congenital nystagmus, the eyes move together in a pendulum-like rotation.
  • Manifest Nystagmus – This is where the nystagmus is continually present in the affected person’s eyes.
  • Latent Nystagmus – Latent nystagmus only occurs when one eye is covered.
  • Manifest-Latent Nystagmus – This is when the nystagmus is continually present but worsens when one eye is covered.
  • Acquired Nystagmus – Acquired nystagmus is developed not in infancy, but usually later in a person’s life. It can be caused by diseases like multiple sclerosis, brain tumors, or diabetic neuropathy. It can also be caused by head trauma, or other neurological problems, such as adverse side effects from certain medications.



Nystagmus is commonly developed as a result of neurological problems at birth or in early infancy.

Acquired nystagmus can be developed from a variety of different factors, such as:

  • Stroke
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Albinism
  • Myopia (in infants)
  • Congenital cataracts
  • Medication
  • Most diseases that affect the central nervous system

Those with inner ear problems or infections can develop jerk nystagmus. Because the eyes and ears help with balance, the motion of the eyes can cause vertigo and nausea. People with Meniere’s disease are at greater risk of developing nystagmus.

Additionally, it is worth noting that infantile nystagmus can improve slightly as a person gets older, but can also worsen with stress and tiredness.


Nystagmus Treatments

While nystagmus has a chance of receding with age, there are a few quality-of-life steps that you can take to help your eyes focus.

For example, prescribed eyeglasses or contacts can help improve vision.

Using large-print books or magnifying devices can ease the strain on your eyes. Of course, increasing lighting to a comfortable hue so your eyes don’t have to strain to see can be a big benefit.

In more severe cases, surgery can be used to alter the position of the muscles that move your eyes. This is not a cure for nystagmus but can reduce the severity of the movement, and make the symptoms of nystagmus more manageable.

As always, if you feel like recent trauma or illness may have created signs indicative of nystagmus, talk to your eye doctor, who may reach out to your primary care physician.

Together you can find a treatment that works for you.

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