The main symptom of nystagmus is rapid, uncontrolled eye movement. If you have nystagmus it can feel like your eyes have a mind of their own. They can move from side to side (horizontal nystagmus), up and down (vertical nystagmus) or in a circle (rotary nystagmus).
In addition to the rapid eye movement caused by nystagmus, your eyes can feel extra sensitive to light. You may have difficulty seeing in the dark, or other vision problems. Some people don’t experience any problems with their vision at all, especially if they inherited the condition. For others, it can seem like the world is shaking. It’s also possible to experience headaches, eye aches or eye strain.
Around 1 in 1,500 people have nystagmus.¹ Children can be born with it or develop it later on as infants (infantile nystagmus syndrome or INS). It is also possible to develop acquired nystagmus, meaning something else has triggered it later in life.
When you move your head around, your eyes move automatically to keep the image you see still and sharp. If someone has nystagmus, the part of the brain
that controls these eye adjustments is not working properly. It can also be caused
by other eye problems, or in rare cases, brain tumours or other
Some of the causes of Nystagmus include: ³ ⁴
- Hereditary nystagmus: The condition has been passed down from your parents
- Other eye issues: These can include cataracts, glaucoma or strabismus (your eyes are not aligned or ‘crossed’)
- Other diseases: Conditions such as a stroke, or multiple sclerosis (MS)
- Head injuries: Damage to the brain due to impact
- Albinism: A rare inherited disorder that causes lack of skin pigment
- Inner ear problems: For example Meniere’s disease (vertigo or dizziness)
- Medications: These could include anti-seizure drugs or lithium
- Excessive alcohol or drug use
In some cases, eye movements are voluntary and not linked to any other medical condition. Voluntary nystagmus is when you shake your eyes intentionally — like wiggling your ears. This tends to be more of a party trick for entertainment. For some people, they use the fluttering to manage feelings of dizziness.⁵
Your ophthalmologist will discuss your medical history with you, examine your eyes and test your vision. They may also examine the pattern of nystagmus with various tests. Your doctor will also look for other eye problems such as cataracts. Other tests may be recommended to determine the source of the problem including ear tests, neurological tests, and brain image scans such as an MRI.⁶
Your treatment will depend on the cause. If you were born with the condition, there is no cure, but some treatments can help ease your symptoms. Correcting your vision with glasses or contact lenses can help to slow down rapid eye movements. Eye muscle surgery may be prescribed in very rare cases. It can help to reposition eye muscles so that you don’t need to tilt or turn your head as far to see properly.
It will not correct or cure the condition itself however.⁷
If you have acquired nystagmus, it can be possible for the condition to go away by itself. If you would like to read more about nystagmus, and where you can get it treated near you, head over to the NHS website for further information.
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