Nystagmus: How to deal with dancing eyes?

Julie Topping

Published on June 30, 2021, 6:56 am

Nystagmus: How to deal with dancing eyes?

We all take our eyes for granted. But we would have more appreciation for them if we knew what marvellous pieces of engineering they are.

People often say that the eyes are the window to the soul. While modern science denies the existence of the soul, it does suggest that the eyes may have some insights into the working of the brain.

Some eye disorders reflect the abnormal functioning in certain parts of your brain. One such condition we are going to talk about today is "Nystagmus".

Our eyes are moving every waking moment. Where most of these movements are intended under conscious control, in some people, these movements may happen involuntarily. If this sounds like you, then you may have nystagmus.

What is Nystagmus?

Nystagmus refers to involuntary and rapid eye movements that may affect one or both eyes. This condition makes your eyes appear as if they are shaking. They either move back and forth, up and down, side to side or in a circular motion.

Due to the appearance of shaking eyes, this disorder is also termed as “dancing eyes”.

In most cases, Nystagmus is congenital and develops within 6 weeks or several months from birth. Nystagmus reduces depth perception and visual acuity. It may also throw off balance or coordination between your eyes. But, this problem could be treated with prescription glasses.

Types of Nystagmus

Types of Nystagmus

There are different types of nystagmus that may develop at different points in someone’s life. Infantile nystagmus is the most common one that babies develop within the first few months of birth.

Other forms of this disorder may include:

  • Manifest nystagmus: Present at all times in one or both eyes. Whereas latent nystagmus occurs when one eye is covered.
  • Manifest-latent nystagmus: It is felt even when both eyes are open but worsens in monocular viewing.
  • Acquired nystagmus: It is caused by a disease such as a brain tumour or diabetic neuropathy. Severe head injuries or neurological problems due to medication side effects can also trigger acquired nystagmus.

The effects and severity of this eye disorder vary from person to person. Where some children only feel a little trouble while reading, some may even struggle with very low visual acuity from nystagmus.

Nystagmus is also categorised on the basis of the direction your eyes move when they are shaking.

  • Horizontal Nystagmus: Refers to the side to side eye movements.
  • Vertical Nystagmus: Involves up and down movements of the eyes
  • Torsional or Rotary Nystagmus: Accounts for circular movements

Nystagmus Symptoms

The dead giveaway would be the uncontrollable shaking of your eyes. Other signs may include:

  • Strange head positions as you try to focus when you can’t keep your eyes steady
  • Tilting your head makes things appear clear
  • Blurry vision in children
  • The stationary world seems a bit shaky to adults with nystagmus
  • You may develop sensitivity to bright lights
  • Problems with balance
  • Dizziness

What are the Causes of Nystagmus?

If it is not congenital, this problem could be a sign of a potential eye problem or medical condition. If you develop it later in life, the following things are to be blamed.

  • Stroke
  • Other eye conditions such as cataracts or strabismus
  • Side effects of medications such as lithium or phenytoin to treat seizures
  • Head injuries and psychological trauma
  • Inner ear diseases and problems
  • Excessive alcohol consumption

These problems could be treated if they are tracked down at the right time. Make sure you take regular eye tests to avoid any vision problem or decline.

You can get a free eye test from us at our stores in Walkden and Bury. Our certified opticians will assess the health of your eyes and if found a potential medical condition, you will be referred to a healthcare specialist for further consultation.

Diagnosing Nystagmus

Diagnosing Nystagmus

If you suspect that your child has nystagmus, see an eye doctor about it. They will check your child’s vision and ask you about your family’s medical history to diagnose the problem.

In adults, the eye doctor will test the focusing ability of their eyes. They will test how your eyes function together to rule out the problems that could be leading to involuntary eye movements.

If an eye exam fails to provide you with a solid confirmation of nystagmus, you may have to take the following tests:

  • Otoscopy or an ear exam
  • Neurological exam
  • Brain CT scan
  • Brain MRI

What is Voluntary Nystagmus?

Only a few people on this planet can produce voluntary ocular flutter during converging their eyes. The movements are usually horizontal and can sustain for more than 5 seconds.

However, some people can even produce multidirectional movements. Voluntary nystagmus is not a disease but more like a cool party trick to draw attention.

Treating Nystagmus

The treatment for nystagmus depends on the cause behind it. If consumption of alcohol or drugs is what’s causing the problem, you’ll have to put a stop to these habits.

If your problem is caused by refraction in your eyes or vision problem, you will need to wear prescription glasses. Congenital nystagmus will require your child to wear prescription glasses so it doesn’t affect their ocular development.

If your nystagmus is acquired, treatment options for you may include:

  • Changing your current anti-seizure medications
  • Correcting nutritional deficiencies via diet or supplements
  • Treating infections or diseases related to your ear
  • Using prism glasses
  • Treating brain diseases
  • Brain surgeries to correct problems with your central nervous system
  • Using tinted glasses in case you have become sensitive to bright lights

Living with Nystagmus

Nystagmus may or may not improve over time. This is why you must see an eye doctor and correct this problem as soon as possible.

If your child has this eye disorder, use brightly coloured toys as nystagmus may reduce colour contrasts making it even harder to see. Talk to your kid’s teachers at school to make learning a little easier for them. Talk to your eye doctor to seek more information on this subject and how things can be made better.

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