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What is Nystagmus Causes, Types, and Treatments?


Apr 10, 2024 | 6 min read

Nystagmus is a fascinating eye condition characterized by involuntary, rhythmic movements of the eyes. These movements can be rapid and repetitive, affecting one or both eyes. In this blog, we will explore what is Nystagmus, its causes, symptoms, types, and available treatment options.


What is Nystagmus?

Nystagmus is a vision condition characterized by uncontrollable, repetitive eye movements that may affect vision, balance, and coordination. These movements can occur horizontally, vertically, or in a circular pattern. Nystagmus can present at birth (congenital) or develop later in life (acquired).


What are the Causes of Nystagmus

Nystagmus can have various underlying causes, ranging from congenital factors to acquired conditions affecting the eyes, inner ear, or central nervous system. Understanding the cause of nystagmus is crucial for determining the appropriate treatment and management strategies. Here are some common causes:


Congenital Factors

  • Genetic Factors: Congenital nystagmus often has a hereditary component, with mutations in certain genes being implicated. These genetic abnormalities can affect the development and functioning of the eye muscles or the parts of the brain responsible for eye movement control.
  • Abnormal Eye Development: Structural abnormalities in the eye, such as underdevelopment of the optic nerves or abnormalities in the retina, can lead to congenital nystagmus. Conditions like albinism or congenital cataracts may also be associated with nystagmus.

Acquired Factors

  • Neurological Disorders: Nystagmus can result from neurological conditions that affect the brainstem, cerebellum, or other areas involved in eye movement control. Examples include multiple sclerosis, brain tumors, stroke, or Chiari malformation.
  • Inner Ear Problems: Disorders of the inner ear, such as Ménière’s disease or vestibular neuritis, can disrupt the body’s sense of balance and coordination, leading to nystagmus.
  • Head Trauma: Injuries to the head, particularly those affecting the brain or the structures surrounding the eyes, can result in acquired nystagmus. Trauma-induced nystagmus may be temporary or persistent, depending on the extent of the injury.
  • Medications: Certain medications, especially those affecting the central nervous system or neurotransmitter levels, can induce nystagmus as a side effect. Examples include antiseizure medications, sedatives, or antipsychotics.
  • Vision Disorders: Severe refractive errors, untreated strabismus (misalignment of the eyes), or conditions like amblyopia (lazy eye) can cause nystagmus as the brain attempts to compensate for visual deficits.

Environmental Factors

  • Alcohol or Drug Use: Excessive alcohol consumption or the use of illicit drugs can impair coordination and balance, potentially leading to temporary nystagmus.
  • Toxins: Exposure to certain toxins or chemicals, such as industrial solvents or heavy metals, can damage the nervous system and trigger nystagmus.

Idiopathic Nystagmus

In some cases, the underlying cause of nystagmus may still need to be identified despite thorough evaluation. This is idiopathic nystagmus and may occur in both congenital and acquired forms.


What are the Symptoms of Nystagmus:

  • Involuntary eye movements, which may be horizontal, vertical, or rotary.
  • Blurred vision, especially during the period of rapid eye movement.
  • Sensitivity to light (photophobia).
  • Difficulty with depth perception and focusing.
  • Head tilting or nodding to compensate for the eye movements.
  • Reduced visual acuity, particularly in cases of congenital nystagmus.
  • Fatigue and eye strain


Types of Nystagmus

Nystagmus manifests in various forms, each with its characteristics and underlying causes. Understanding the different types of nystagmus is essential for accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment. Here are the primary types of nystagmus:


Congenital Nystagmus


Infantile Nystagmus Syndrome (INS): Also known as congenital nystagmus or idiopathic congenital nystagmus, INS typically presents within the first few months of life. Horizontal oscillations of the eyes often characterize it and may be associated with other ocular conditions such as albinism or congenital cataracts. INS usually persists throughout life, although the intensity of eye movements may decrease with age.


Acquired Nystagmus


  • Spasmus Nutans : This type of acquired nystagmus typically develops in infancy or early childhood. It is characterized by rapid, irregular eye movements that often occur in combination with head nodding or tilting. Spasmus Nutans tend to spontaneously resolve by early childhood, and the underlying cause is often unknown.
  • Acquired Pendular Nystagmus : Acquired pendular nystagmus is characterized by rhythmic, oscillating eye movements that are equal in velocity and amplitude in both eyes. It may occur secondary to conditions such as multiple sclerosis, brainstem lesions, or certain medications.
  • Gaze-Evoked Nystagmus : Gaze-evoked nystagmus refers to nystagmus that is elicited or worsened by changes in gaze direction. It may occur in individuals with neurological disorders affecting the brainstem or cerebellum, such as multiple sclerosis or Arnold-Chiari malformation.
  • Latent Nystagmus : Latent nystagmus is a type of nystagmus that becomes apparent only when one eye is covered. It typically occurs in individuals with a history of congenital strabismus (misalignment of the eyes) and is believed to result from abnormal visual processing in the brain.
  • Acquired Jerk Nystagmus : Acquired jerk nystagmus is characterized by slow eye movements in one direction followed by rapid corrective movements in the opposite direction. It may occur secondary to various neurological conditions, vestibular disorders, or certain medications.

Manifest vs. Latent Nystagmus


  • Manifest nystagmus refers to eye movements that are always present, regardless of visual conditions or gaze direction. It is commonly observed in congenital nystagmus and certain acquired forms of the condition.
  • Latent nystagmus refers to eye movements that are only evident when one eye is covered. It typically occurs in individuals with a history of congenital strabismus and is believed to result from abnormal visual processing in the brain.


Nystagmus Treatments:

There is no cure for nystagmus, treatment aims to manage symptoms and improve visual function. Treatment options may include:

  • Corrective Lenses: Prescription or contact lenses can improve vision and reduce eye strain.
  • Surgery: In some cases, surgical interventions may be considered to alter the muscles that control eye movements.
  • Medication: Certain medications, such as anti-seizure drugs or muscle relaxants, may help reduce nystagmus symptoms.
  • Vision Therapy: Exercises and techniques to improve visual tracking and coordination.
    Assistive Devices: Tools like magnifiers or computer software can aid individuals with nystagmus in reading and other visual tasks.



Nystagmus is a complex eye condition that can significantly impact vision and daily functioning. While there is no cure, various treatment options are available to manage symptoms and improve quality of life. If you or someone you know experiences symptoms of nystagmus, it’s essential to consult an eye care professional for proper diagnosis and personalized treatment recommendations. With appropriate management, individuals with nystagmus can lead fulfilling lives and overcome many challenges associated with this condition.

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