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Nystagmus : Definition, Causes and Treatment

Thursday, September 27th 2012. | General

Nystagmus Definition

Nystagmus is an involuntary movement of the eyes, rhythmic, rapid, jerky and changes direction alternately.

There are nystagmus corresponding to a normal response of the body in response to external conditions. This is the case when the eyes follow a moving train. The eye follows the movement of the train, to a maximum at the side returns to its original position and follows again a point in the train. When the train has passed, the eye stops, stopping his movement saccade. The other normal situation where we can observe nystagmus and that when you place a person sitting on a swivel chair. We observe the same phenomenon jerk, but in this case, is the inner ear that fits.


In everyday life, this reflex vestibular (inner ear, ensuring our balance and our position in space) is used to stabilize the eye during movements of our head.

Nystagmus abnormal (pathological) is due to a disruption of the precise coordination and careful eye muscles which normally not only mobility but immobility. Stability of the eye is disturbed.

Each eye moves through the careful and precise coordination of six muscles (extraocular muscles). These muscles can:

  • Directing the gaze to an object, regardless of its position in space and whatever the position of our head and our body;
  • Stabilize the eye on the object to allow clear vision. Indeed, there is an area on the retina where vision is limited net. The eye should be oriented so that the image of the object is reflected in the specific area;
  • Keep the eye still when you do not specify a particular object, which is extremely important, so that the eyes move in all directions, to systematically monitor all mobile visual events that surround us.

There are two types of nystagmus:

  • The vestibular nystagmus with two phases of motion: one slow and one fast (which denotes the direction of nystagmus)
  • The pendular nystagmus where two earthquakes occur at the same speed.

Nystagmus Causes

Nystagmus has different origins while being physiological.

Nystagmus can be physiological, that is to say, normal. That is, in this case, a phenomenon of adaptation to external conditions is that which consists in hbaituellement eyes follow something or someone that is moving.

It may be pathological, that is to say, abnormal, and in this case, there are many possible causes sometimes interlocking with each other.

Nystagmus from a pathological equilibrium is reached between the various structures responsible for the stability of the eye. The problem can therefore be at the level of the eye itself, at the inner ear to the brain or to the conduction pathways between the eye and the brain. There are different causes: the nystagmus birth (congenital) that can be inherited by achieving the vision capabilities of the eye or acquired in the first months of life. 

Neurosensory nystagmus following a serious illness occurred during pregnancy or childbirth, responsible for severe visual sequelae or neurological possible causes toxoplasmosis during pregnancy, trisomy 21, cerebro-motor disability, lack oxygenation at the waning of preterm birth for example.

Acquired nystagmus in adults or older children is the result of neurological or vestibular (inner ear) by a tumor, abnormal vascularization as arteries or thrombosis following head trauma .


Nystagmus Treatment

Nystagmus does not have a specific treatment.

Nystagmus usually can not be cured, but treatment can help.The therapeutic management must always be indicated by a competent ophthalmologist, as early as possible. The treatment is the correction of visual acuity and eye surgery.

Correction of vision disorders associated (nearsightedness, farsightedness), by wearing contact lenses or glasses, does not cure nystagmus but improves vision, so comfort and skills of the patient. Caches adhesives or incorporated corrective lenses can be used. They cause a forced deviation of the eyes thus preventing the child to turn his head to see better.

Sometimes, surgery is indicated. The goal of surgery is to move the eye by acting on the muscles of the eye to put it in the straight ahead position, the privileged position where the nystagmus is least important. The objective is that the person holding the head upright, sees best.

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