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Ask Dr. Julie: Do You Treat The Condition Nystagmus?


In this segment of Ask Dr. Julie, let’s talk about a condition that we’re hearing an awful lot about. Patients are contacting our clinic asking us, “Do we treat the condition of nystagmus?” The answer is yes. But what actually is nystagmus? How does it occur? What causes it and why are we successful in treating it?

First of all, nystagmus is an involuntary eye movement where the eye itself moves and the person cannot consciously stop and control it. It may move side to side, it might move up and down, it might even move in a circular pattern. So if you look at someone and you’re like, wow, their eyes are just wiggling nonstop, and it’s not like you see them shifting and looking side to side or they’re uncomfortable and they’re moving their eyes around. This is something that’s kind of like a fast movement usually, or a very specific pattern of movement.

So why on earth do we get it? Well, let’s talk about that in a minute. Let’s actually discuss the kind of classifications of it. So one is congenital, which means that we have it from birth or shortly thereafter. One is manifest. Manifest means it’s there all the time. If it’s latent, it means that you only notice it maybe in a specific position of the eye. So for instance, if someone looks off to the right. Manifest latent means it’s there all the time, but it is worsened when you cover an eye. Acquired is a condition in which it comes on as a result of something else, so later on in life, we can acquire nystagmus.

Now if it’s congenital, typically it’s going to severely affect the person’s eyesight because they’re never going to have developed the ability to see things clearly, the eye’s moving all the time so they won’t be able to learn how to stop and fixate on a particular item to be able to see it really nice and clear and focus in on it. It’s also associated particularly with albinism. So if someone has the condition of albinism or is an albino, which means that they don’t have as much pigment in their body, then oftentimes they will have congenital nystagmus, as well. But again, we know there are other forms of nystagmus which can develop later on, so it can be an acquired.

So what are some conditions or how is it acquired? Well, we can get nystagmus from a head injury. We can get nystagmus from certain neurological conditions like a Guillain-Barre or multiple sclerosis. We can develop it if we have a strabismus or an eye turn. We can develop it from genetics as well. We know that it can be associated with a vestibular problem. So an inner ear problem can actually cause nystagmus. So there’s an ocular versus one that’s associated with vestibular type of nystagmus.

If you have an acquired nystagmus, it’s important to rule out the possibility of a brain tumor because that is something that can cause an acquired nystagmus. We also can see nystagmus come up as an acquired position or a circumstance with something like medications that you take.  The other one that I think is really big that I see these days is acquired nystagmus associated with vaccinations. We’re seeing quite a lot of those.

So that’s some of the causes. We talked about the different types. We talked about the different causes. Now let’s talk about what nystagmus can cause itself.

As a result of this movement of the eye where it’s kind of swinging back and forth, sometimes a more of a circular pattern, sometimes an up and down pattern, but the most common one is the side to side pattern, we obviously will have problems with eyesight. They will have a difficult time stopping to fixate, particularly if it’s a manifest type of nystagmus, which is there all the time. The latent nystagmus… remember that’s the one where you cover an eye or they might look in one particular position and it kind of shows up more. If it’s there nonstop, every time the eyes are open their eyes are moving which will cause some problems with focusing in to see things clearly. So our eyesight will be degraded as a result of that.

It also is associated with, maybe it’s not the cause, but it’s definitely associated with a lot of binocular or two eyed vision problems. So people who have nystagmus often have something like a strabismus. They often have issues with tracking. They often have… well if you think about it, because their eyes moving a lot… they may have difficulty following objects clearly, especially if they don’t see very well, but their eye’s in motion all the time. So for them to kind of track an object is very, very difficult. And so you may definitely notice that nystagmus is associated with a lot of uncoordination or problems with being graceful. Definitely these are people who are not going to be sports playing individuals because they won’t have great eye/hand coordination. It will be too severely affected.

Certainly there are lots of other things that we could mention that come into play here. Another one that would be very, very noteworthy would be dizziness. So a feeling of being dizzy, especially if that’s related to the inner ear and the vestibular system. So there’s lots of causes of a nystagmus potentially.

What does nystagmus affect? It affects our ability to focus, our ability to see clearly, our ability to use our two eyes together as a team, our ability to be coordinated and maybe even the feelings of dizziness and motion sickness feeling.

What do you actually do for nystagmus? Can you do anything at all? Well, you can. There’s actually some forms of treatment for nystagmus that are pretty phenomenal. Our clinic actually has tremendous success with this. We’ve worked with a lot of nystagmus patients over the years that have it for a multitude of different reasons. So pretty much any of the ones that we’ve mentioned here, as far as congenital, manifest, latent, manifest latent, or acquired. We’ve worked with all of those throughout the years.

There are quite a few things that you can do. One of the things that’s most beneficial is to put that individual through a course of syntonic or photo-syntonic light therapy. This actually, if we’re treating the brain like a brain injury, will slow down and sometimes get rid of the nystagmus by as much as 80 to 90%, and it even can decrease in some cases to where you might go from manifest, which is there all the time, to a latent where it just shows up if you cover an eye.

What a difference that makes in people’s lives to get rid of that constant motion and to take it just down to it only showing up if you look in an extreme area or if I you cover up an eye. We are able to help them improve their level of eyesight and their ability to focus. We look at the binocular vision or the two eyed vision problems and we’re able to treat that aspect, as well, teaching them how to align and use their two eyes together.

There’s an awful lot surrounding nystagmus. It’s a very interesting condition. We see a lot of it acquired these days associated to medications and vaccinations. We see more nystagmus patients now than we have ever seen in our clinic before, in all of our 19 years, and I think that we’re going to continue to see more of it.

If you have nystagmus, or you know someone who does, then contact our clinic. If you’re local, call us at 618-288-1489. If you’re not local, go to our website and fill out the questionnaire for us. That will get you in the loop and pattern of us connecting back with you to talk about how we can help you with your nystagmus. It’s not correctable to the point where it will just totally and completely go away, usually. Sometimes it is. Most of the time though, we’re looking at improving it anywhere from around 80 to 90% and that is phenomenal.