Oral & Vision Health Blog

Dancing Eyes: Nystagmus – What Is It and How Can It Be Treated?

The eyes are the window to the soul. But they can also be an indicator for underlying vision problems. Nystagmus, or dancing eyes, is a vision condition characterized by repetitive, uncontrolled movements, such as shaking. Directionally, the shaking can vary moving vertically, horizontally, rotationally, or even jerking after drifting to one side, along with having different degrees of speed, frequency, and noticeability. While nystagmus itself is not a diagnosis, it can reveal signs of underlying diseases and related vision problems. But what is the cause of nystagmus, and can it be treated? Here’s what you need to know:

Different Forms of Nystagmus

The various forms of nystagmus may include:

  • Infantile - Most often develops by 2 to 3 months of age.
  • Spasmus nutans - It usually occurs between 6 months and 3 years of age and improves on its own between 2 and 8 years of age. 
  • Acquired - Develops later in childhood or adulthood

Causes of Nystagmus

Nystagmus commonly affects both eyes. The areas of the brain that control eye movements do not work properly. It is not always clear why someone has nystagmus, but it can be related to other eye problems. Related causes of nystagmus vary from:

  • Having a family history of nystagmus
  • Retina or optic nerve disorders
  • Very high refractive error, for example, nearsightedness (myopia) or astigmatism.
  • A wide range of eye problems in infants/children, including cataracts and focusing problem.
  • Inner ear problems, such as Meniere’s disease or vertigo
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Stroke
  • Head injury
  • Use of certain medications, such as lithium or anti-seizure medications
  • Alcohol or drug use
  • Albinism

Symptoms of Nystagmus

In addition to the previously mentioned symptoms of nystagmus, the shaky or dancing eyes, objects may appear blurry and shaky. This then affects balance and dizziness as well as nighttime vision problems or sensitivity to light.

How to Treat Nystagmus

In some cases, nystagmus can correct itself over time, especially if the underlying condition is treated. However, there are steps you can take to correct and focus your vision. For instance, getting glasses or contact lenses. Though this does not fix the nystagmus, having a clearer vision can help slow eye movements. In rare cases, while surgery does not cure nystagmus, it may reduce how much a person needs to turn his or her head for better vision. Nystagmus can be diagnosed through a comprehensive eye exam. Your optometrist can help you decide the best course of action for you!


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