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Nystagmus is an unintentional jittery movement of the eyes. Nystagmus usually involves both eyes and is often exaggerated by looking in a particular direction.
Alternative Names of Nystagmus are:
Complications of Nystagmus
The inability to hold a steady gaze almost always results in some loss of visual acuity. The perception that stationary objects are moving (oscillopsia) and the loss of depth perception can cause individuals with nystagmus to lose their balance or appear clumsy. Nystagmus that comes on suddenly such as with a viral infection of the inner ear (viral labyrinthitis) is often associated with nausea and vomiting.
Causes of Nystagmus
The direct cause of nystagmus is instability in the motor system that controls the eyes. There are a number of different causes of this instability, including:
However, in some cases, the cause of nystagmus is unknown.
Signs & Symptoms of Nystagmus
Nystagmus is characterized by involuntary, repeated oscillations of one or both eyes, and the disorder often affects the nerves behind the eye and not the eye itself. Movements may be horizontal, vertical, circular, or a combination of various motions and speeds. Nystagmus affects people in varying ways and degrees. Although most affected people view objects as stationary because the brain is thought to make the necessary adjustments, many often have reduced acuity because of the challenge to maintain a fixed focus. People with nystagmus tend to see objects in lower contrast, and many experience problems with depth perception that affect balance and coordination. Some of those affected with the disorder tilt their heads or display nodding to compensate for the impairment or symptoms.
Many people with nystagmus are considered partially sighted; some are registered legally blind; and most are unable to drive. Generally, the faster the oscillation, the lower the visual acuity, and, conversely, the slower the movement, the higher the visual acuity. It is important to point out; however, that vision impairment may also be a result of other underlying visual problems. Most people with nystagmus have a null point, which is a specific viewing angle when eye movement is reduced and vision is improved. Affected people often develop a certain head posture or body posture such as sitting to one side of a television, movie screen, etc., in order to get the best view.
Diagnosis of Nystagmus
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history, and perform a physical exam. If nystagmus seems to be present, you may need:
Tests may include the following:
The ophthalmologist will also look for other eye problems that may be related to the nystagmus, such as strabismus, cataracts, or abnormality of the optic nerves or retina. The ear specialist will look for signs of ear infection, and for worsening of the nystagmus with head positions.
Treatments of Nystagmus
Prevention of Nystagmus
There is no known way to prevent nystagmus.
When to seek Medical Advice
Since nystagmus can be caused by tumors, stroke, and trauma or neurological disorder, any type of nystagmus must be evaluated by a qualified practitioner. The nystagmus can be a sign of a serious problem.
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