What is nystagmus?Why does it occur?

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Nystagmus is a condition where the eyes move rapidly and uncontrollably. They can move side to side (horizontal nystagmus), up and down (vertical nystagmus) or in a circle (rotary nystagmus).The movement can vary between slow and fast and usually happens in both eyes. The eyes may shake more when looking in certain directions. People with nystagmus may tilt or turn their head to see more clearly. This helps to slow down the eye movements.Due to the involuntary movement of the eye, it has been known as “dancing eyes“.

In a normal condition, while the head rotates about any axis, distant visual pictures are sustained by rotating eyes in the other way on the respective axis. The semicircular canals in the vestibule sense angular acceleration. These send signals to the nuclei for eye movement in the brain. From here, an indication is relayed to the extraocular muscles to permit one’s gaze to fixate on one object as the head moves. nystagmus also happens when the semicircular canals are being stimulated (e.g. by means of the caloric test, or by disease) while the head is not in motion. The direction of ocular movement is related to the semicircular canal that is being stimulated.

Also Read: Precautions to be taken for chemical spill in eyes

Nystagmus may be caused by congenital disorders, acquired or central nervous system disorders, toxicity, pharmaceutical drugs, alcohol, or rotational movement. Previously considered untreatable, in recent years many pharmaceutical drugs have been identified for treatment of nystagmus.

Causes of nystagmus include:

  • Lack of development of traditional eye movement control early in life
  • Albinism
  • Very high refractive error, such as nearsightedness (myopia) or astigmatism
  • Congenital cataracts
  • Inflammation of the inner ear
  • Medications like anti-epilepsy drugs
  • Central nervous system diseases

There are 2 kinds of nystagmus. the primary is Infantile Nystagmus Syndrome (INS) which some people have at birth. The second kind is known as acquired nystagmus which has a number of causes including:

  • Alcohol
  • Drugs, especially sedatives
  • Head injury
  • Inner ear problems like labyrinthitis or Meniere’s disease
  • Thiamine deficiency
  • Vitamin B12 deficiency
  • Diseases that can affect the brain’s control of the eyes such as a tumor, or multiple sclerosis.

Other causes include:

  • Head injury from motor vehicle accidents
  • Inner ear disorders such as labyrinthitis or Meniere’s disease
  • Stroke
  • Thiamine or vitamin b12 deficiency
  • Any disease of the brain (such as multiple sclerosis or brain tumors) will cause nystagmus if the areas controlling eye movements are damaged.

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