Nystagmus is an involuntary rhythmic side-to-side, up and down or circular motion of the eyes that occurs with a variety of conditions.
What You Need to Know
- Nystagmus most commonly affects both of the eyes. It may only last seconds, or may be permanent.
- There are two types of nystagmus. In pendular nystagmus, the eye motion is like a pendulum swinging back and forth. Jerk nystagmus, the more common type, is characterized by eyes that drift slowly in one direction and then jerk back the other way.
- Doctors may notice nystagmus in a person being evaluated for dizziness, vertigo and other balance problems affecting the inner ear.
Oscillopsia, or the illusory sensation that the stationary visual world is moving, is the major symptom experienced by patients with nystagmus.
When nystagmus is related to a problem involving the vestibular system in the inner ear or the brain, vertigo, dizziness or loss of balance are almost always present. Nystagmus usually causes blurry vision in addition to jumping vision.
What causes nystagmus?
Jerk nystagmus usually results from diseases affecting the inner ear balance mechanisms or the back part of the brain (brainstem or cerebellum).
Pendular nystagmus can result from brain diseases such as multiple sclerosis, but can be a congenital problem as well.
When nystagmus is a new symptom and occurs with new dizziness or vertigo, the patient should get prompt medical attention.
People experiencing pendular nystagmus for the first time should see a neurologist or neuro-ophthalmologist. Although it is not typically an emergency, pendular nystagmus should be assessed promptly.
Depending on associated symptoms, the doctor may order tests such as a brain MRI or blood work to rule out a potentially dangerous cause such as stroke.
Treatment for Nystagmus
Nystagmus is usually temporary and resolves on its own or improves with time. Certain medications may be recommended to treat persistent nystagmus, but not all practitioners agree that these medications are effective or that their side effects outweigh their benefits.