What Is Nystagmus?
Nystagmus is a condition involving involuntary, rapid, and repetitive movements of one or both eyes vertically, horizontally, or in a circular motion. Nystagmus may be present at birth or, less commonly, may result from disease or injury.
Nystagmus is most often a symptom of an eye disorder or neurological issue.
How Is It Diagnosed?
Repetitive, uncontrolled eye movements are visible to a caregiver who will discuss concerns with a pediatrician. The pediatrician will diagnose nystagmus and work with a pediatric ophthalmologist to explore the cause of nystagmus, which could be underdevelopment of eye muscles, albinism, a refractive error (nearsightedness, farsightedness, or astigmatism), cataracts, neurological disease, ear inflammation, or a side effect of medication.
Are There Treatments for Nystagmus?
In rare cases, surgery will be recommended to reposition eye muscles. Otherwise, prescription glasses or contacts can help your child with a related refractive error.
How Would You Describe the Eyesight of One with Nystagmus and How Will My Child Function with It?
Interestingly, most people with nystagmus perceive objects as still despite their eyes moving. This is because 1) the brain compensates for the fluctuating information received, and 2) individuals with nystagmus generally tilt their head just-so to make the most of the point of least nystagmus interference (known as the “null point”).
However, reduced vision (termed “reduced visual acuity”) is a common result of nystagmus. This means your child may strain when accessing information from a distance, identifying small images or letters on paper, and recognizing details. If this is the case, your child may benefit from increased contrast of the environment and increased contrast of print by using a CCTV or screen-magnification software as well as increased task lighting. Your child may also benefit from assistive technology to more easily use the computer and techniques and accommodations to perform activities with limited vision.
In some cases, nystagmus interferes with vision more substantially. Your child may have issues with balance (eased with use of a support cane), trouble with depth perception (use of a cane becomes important to detecting drop-offs and uneven ground when walking), and difficulty keeping place when reading. Placing a cutout reading window over a line of text or using a card to “underline” text can be helpful. Alternatively, your child could be a candidate for braille.
Your child’s teacher of students with visual impairments should perform a functional vision assessment to determine how your child sees in functional environments and a learning media assessment to determine which senses your child primarily uses to get information from the environment. These assessments, along with an orientation and mobility assessment conducted by a mobility specialist, will give the educational team information needed to make specific recommendations for your child to best access learning material and his or her environment.
Resources for Families of Children with Nystagmus
- Nystagmus by the American Optometric Association
- Nystagmus published in the Vision Enhancement Journal