Definition (Nystagmus): Nystagmus is a condition that causes involuntary, rapid movement of one or both eyes. The eye(s) may move from side to side, up and down, or in a circular motion. Nystagmus is often accompanied by vision problems, including blurriness. It is common for individuals with this condition to tilt their heads to compensate for their difficulty seeing.

This condition is also known as:

  • dancing eyes
  • back-and-forth eye movements
  • involuntary eye movements
  • uncontrolled eye movements
  • rapid eye movements (from side to side)

Causes: Nystagmus may be hereditary or caused by developmental problems in the part of the brain that controls eye motion. These types of nystagmus are called congenital nystagmus or spasmus nutans. Acquired nystagmus, which can occur at any age, may be caused by trauma, underlying medical conditions or diseases, or drugs. These underlying conditions or diseases may be serious.

Common causes: Acquired nystagmus may be caused by relatively common underlying medical conditions or certain lifestyle factors including:

  • Alcohol intoxication
  • Medical disorders involving the inner ear such as labyrinthitis (Meniere’s disease)
  • Multiple sclerosis (disease that affects the brain and spinal cord causing weakness, coordination and balance difficulties, and other problems)
  • Parkinson’s disease (brain disorder that impairs movement and coordination)
  • Sedative medications

Serious or life-threatening causes: In some cases, acquired nystagmus may be a symptom of a serious or life-threatening condition that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting. These include:

  • Brain tumor
  • Drug overdose or toxicity
  • Head trauma
  • Stroke

Treatment: Treatment for nystagmus depends on whether the condition is congenital or acquired. Congenital nystagmus does not require treatment, although corrective lenses or eye surgery may help with vision difficulties. If the condition is acquired, treatment will focus on the underlying cause.

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