Nystagmus: What is it?


Nystagmus is reported to affect around 1 in 1000 people making it more common than people would believe. For those not connected to it, nystagmus sounds like a made-up word. So, what is nystagmus, what causes nystagmus and what are the symptoms of nystagmus?


According to the New England Journal of Medicine, nystagmus consists of a rapid, short, back and forth movements of the eye generally caused by some perversion of the centers governing the ocular movements.

These movements occur in different pathways, and while the eye moving side to side is the most common path, it is not the only movement. Those with nystagmus can have eye movements that move from up to down with the origin being the up movement, or the eye can move from down to up with the origin being the down movement. In a few cases, the eye’s motions can be described as circular.


Nystagmus is most commonly observed in early childhood stages. Cases of late-onset nystagmus can also occur. In the case of early childhood nystagmus, there is a defect in the eye or the visual pathway from the eye to the brain.

Although many children with nystagmus face other forms of eye, brain, and health problems, plenty of children do not.  In this instance, the condition is called congenital idiopathic nystagmus. In these cases, nystagmus is observed early on in life with no known cause.

Nystagmus can be inherited. To know if it can be passed on and the chances of that occurring, you must be looked at by a clinical geneticist. They can provide a more detailed information on those possibilities.

What are the symptoms?

Nystagmus symptoms vary from person to person depending on the type. The one common characteristic that everyone with nystagmus shares is blurred vision. The degree at which the vision is blurred fluctuates from person to person.

It can be more difficult to read small print or computer screens. In both instances, the angle at which the person reads or views the screen can greatly help with their eye movement. They can often find a point called the “null point” where the movement is cut down to a degree and the vision becomes clearer.  The use of bigger fonts and different color combinations is commonly used to help make books and screens more legible.

Balance and depth perception are both considerably reduced in most cases of nystagmus. Orienting oneself can become difficult due to the limited focus the eye is able to achieve. Clumsiness is common because of this.

Take Away:

An important piece to take away from this article is that very few people diagnosed with nystagmus are considered totally blind. They are more likely to be considered legally blind or partially sighted. Those with nystagmus do not experience pain directly linked to this condition. And while there is no cure, much can be done in training to use what vision they do have.