The word nystagmus comes from the Greek word nmstagmos, a description of wobbling head movements from a person who was very tired or drunk. Nystagmus is an uncontrollable movement of persons’ eyes, either vertically or horizontally, although the most common affliction is side to side. This eye condition is not very well known, yet affects roughly one out of every 2,000 people. While this is a condition affecting the eyes, it does not cause discomfort and has no bearing on vision problems or the loss of vision.
There are two basic categories nystagmus is classified into. The first is known as Pediatric Nystagmus. This condition is first seen in infants who are usually around 6 to 8 weeks old. The causes of this particular type might be a problem in the eyes, or an issue with the visual pathways going from the babies’ brain to their eyes. Pediatric nystagmus has been found to be from an inherited gene, and those who have it may also suffer from problems with the retina, optic nerve and albinism.
Acquired Nystagmus is the second classification. This type may not appear in a person until later on in their life. This may be due to some neurological dysfunction, tumors in the brain, or multiple sclerosis. A head injury can bring on the symptoms of nystagmus. It may also start because of lesions in the cerebellum.
A person who suffers from nystagmus may be able to function absolutely normal in every day life, especially if they are born with it. Their brain will have adapted early to the constant movement of their eyes. Patients who develop the condition in later life generally do not have such an easy time with it, and can become easily dizzy and nauseous. It can also become a social problem, as the person may start to avoid eye contact with other people. Depth perception may be altered, causing the individual to appear clumsy when they are only off-balance because of their eye condition.
There are some factors that may be looked at to determine whether a person is at an increased risk of developing nystagmus. Since it is an inherited disease, it may occur in the children of a parent who has it. Eye conditions like optic nerve degeneration and severe astigmatism may increase the risk of development. A stroke, head injury, and multiple sclerosis are all risk factors, as is the use of some medications. These may include lithium or some anti-seizure medicines, as well as drug or alcohol abuse.
While there is no known cure for nystagmus, researchers are studying the genetics of the disease and are hopeful to find a link that can be worked with to keep the gene from being passed through from parents to children. The use of prescription contact lenses have helped some sufferers of the disease, as the contact itself on the eye may help the wearer maintain more control over their movements. Surgery has been successful in the United States to fix the problem, and auricular acupuncture has been reported to have an excellent rate of success.