Nystagmus

What is it?

Nystagmus is a condition in which people have involuntary eye movement. The eyes usually move from side to side. Most people with nystagmus have trouble with vision. It can affect one or both eyes.

There are several different types of nystagmus. Babies may be born with nystagmus or develop it early in childhood. This is known as infantile nystagmus and may have been passed down through the family. Nystagmus can also appear later in life as a result of illness, injury, recreational drugs or alcohol use. This is known as acquired nystagmus.

  • Causes

    Nystagmus can happen because of problems with the balance system in the inner ear. The balance system usually tells the eye muscles how to move so that our eyes can keep looking at the same place when we turn our head.

    Nystagmus in early childhood may be due to a faulty gene passed through the family. It can also be linked to conditions such as Down syndrome, albinism, brain disorders and other eye conditions such as cataract or retinal disorders. In some children however, the cause is unknown.

    When nystagmus appears later in life it can be due to another condition, such as a stroke or multiple sclerosis. Nystagmus can be the first sign of serious disorder of the eye or brain.

  • Symptoms

    Nystagmus causes an involuntary, wobbly movement of the eyes, usually from side to side. Vision can be close to normal or be seriously reduced. It can make it hard to judge depth.

    People with nystagmus may become tired easily, due to the effort needed to look at things. It can make it harder to drive, work and study.

  • Treatments

    Treatment options for nystagmus are limited. Glasses or contact lenses may improve sight but will not correct nystagmus.

    Sometimes medication can reduce the nystagmus and improve vision. In some cases, surgery may be used to cut and reattach some of the eye muscles. The aim is to correct for abnormal head turns and/or to slow the involuntary movements and improve vision.

  • Research

    There is currently no cure for nystagmus. Research aims to improve drug treatments so that they can work for more people or be better at controlling eye movement. We also need to understand more about the causes of nystagmus, as for some children the cause is not known.

    Read our research projects
  • Clinical trials

    You could play an important part in eye research by being a participant in clinical research study that may benefit many people. You could even help shape clinical research by becoming more actively involved and having a say. Patients, carer, or anyone with an interest can help.

    What are clinical trials

    Clinical trials are research studies that find out if a medical strategy, treatment, or device is safe and effective for humans. They are a key research tool for improving medical knowledge and patient care. The people who carry out research are mostly the same doctors and healthcare professionals who treat people. Their aim is to find better ways of treating patients and keeping people healthy.

    Taking part

    Here are some ways to find out about research projects and clinical trials that you can get involved in.

    UK Clinical Trials Gateway

    The UK Clinical Trials Gateway run by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) provides easy to understand information about clinical research trials running in the UK, and gives to a large range of information about these trials. It is designed to enable patients and clinicians to locate and contact trials of interest. Visit their website and select the eye condition that you are interested in.

    NIHR Clinical Research Network Portfolio

    The NIHR Clinical Research Network Portfolio is a database of high-quality clinical research studies in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Within this the Ophthalmology Specialty Group supports a national portfolio of research studies in ophthalmology and the vision sciences. See their website for details.

    If you wish to join a trial it is always best to discuss this with your doctor or clinical team first.

Last updated August 2015
Approved by Professor Irene Gottlob, University of Leicester. 

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