If you’ve ever noticed someone’s eyes moving involuntarily from side to side, up and down, or in circular motions, then you’ve probably seen a person with congenital nystagmus, an eye condition that affects 1 in 1,000 people.
This eye movement disorder leads to vision issues such as low visual acuity and difficulty with depth perception. As of now, there is no cure for congenital nystagmus. But the condition can be managed so that patients can enjoy improved vision and go about their regular lives without problems.
This blog post explores the causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment options for congenital nystagmus, as well as coping mechanisms for those living with the condition.
Congenital Nystagmus Causes
The American Optometrist Association says congenital nystagmus results from neurological abnormalities present either at birth, developed in infancy, or very early in a child’s life. Researchers believe that congenital nystagmus can be genetic, too.
Certain underlying medical conditions, such as albinism and optic nerve hypoplasia, may also increase the risk of developing congenital nystagmus but not all cases have a clear cause. Some individuals are just born with it, for no explainable reason.
Congenital Nystagmus Symptoms
One or more of these signs will tell you when you or someone you know has congenital nystagmus:
- Rapid, involuntary eye movements that may be side-to-side, up-and-down, or circular in nature.
- Sensitivity to light, which may cause discomfort or even pain in bright environments.
- Reduced visual sharpness, especially in low-light conditions.
- Head tilting or turning to see more clearly, especially when looking at objects off to the side.
- Depth perception issues. This means you struggle to determine the distance between yourself and people or things. You probably can’t easily navigate uneven terrain, either.
For some, these symptoms will be mild. But for others, they can be so severe that simple everyday activities like driving and climbing stairs may be impossible.
It is important to note that because congenital nystagmus is a lifelong condition, symptoms may become better or worse as time goes by. The condition is more likely to worsen with underlying medical conditions.
Diagnosis and Treatment of Congenital Nystagmus
We recommend seeing an eye doctor without delay if you’re experiencing symptoms of congenital nystagmus to rule out other eye or health conditions that may be causing the rapid eye movements.
Here at New Jersey Eye Site, our comprehensive eye exams include assessing things like eye movement, sensitivity to light, and of course, visual acuity (clarity of vision and sharpness of sight). We sometimes order an electroretinogram (ERG) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), just to be sure there are no underlying medical conditions contributing to your symptoms.
As of now, there is no surgical or non-surgical cure for nystagmus, only treatment options to manage symptoms and improve visual function. They can include:
- Eyeglasses or contact lenses to correct refractive errors and improve visual acuity.
- Syntonic phototherapy stimulates your retina and improves visual function and overall well-being. These demonstrations here and here show how effectively we use syntonic phototherapy to deal with nystagmus at New Jersey Eye Site. Anyone from the American Nystagmus Network can feel free to reach out to us.
- Eye muscle surgery reduces the intensity of eye movements and improves the alignment of the eyes.
- Vision therapy or occupational therapy to help improve eye muscle control and visual processing.
- Medications, such as gabapentin or baclofen, can help to reduce eye movement intensity and improve visual function.
- Visual aids, such as telescopes or magnifying glasses, can improve visual acuity and reduce eye strain.
It is best to work closely with your eye doctor to monitor your symptoms and determine what would work best for you. The right plan can help you effectively manage congenital nystagmus and allow you to enjoy good visual function for years to come.
How To Cope With Congenital Nystagmus
Having nystagmus is not the end of the world. You can thrive regardless of the condition, enjoying good vision and getting your activities done on a day-to-day basis.
These tips can help make life a lot easier for you:
Use bright, even lighting to reduce eye strain and improve visual function. Consider using task lighting or natural light sources to supplement ambient lighting in your home or workspace.
If you are glued to your phone or computer for long periods, it can cause and worsen eye strain. So make sure to take regular breaks when you use digital devices.
The right visual aids
There are many types of visual aids available, from magnifying glasses to screen readers. Experiment with the different types of visual aids available — from screen readers to magnifying lenses — to find the tools that work for your specific needs.
Mind your posture
Bad posture contributes to eye strain. Sit with your back straight and your screen at eye level to reduce strain on your neck and shoulders.
Joining a support group or connecting with others who have congenital nystagmus can be a great way to share experiences, get advice, and find emotional support.
Congenital Nystagmus FAQs
1. Is congenital nystagmus a common condition?
No, it’s not. Congenital nystagmus affects one in every 1,000 people. It’s safe to call it a relatively rare vision disorder.
2. Does nystagmus imply brain damage?
No. Nystagmus doesn’t always indicate brain damage. It’s an eye movement disorder that may be caused by neurological issues, genetics, medication, or other health conditions.
Our practice serves patients from Old Bridge, East Brunswick, Woodbridge, and Edison, New Jersey and surrounding communities.