Some people are born with nystagmus– an annoying condition that makes your eyes jerk involuntarily, causing dizziness and reading problems. For others, nystagmus is acquired later in life.
What is nystagmus?
Nystagmus is an eye disorder that makes your eyes shake, jolt, or swerve repetitively. It occurs when your brain has poor control over eye movements, and makes it difficult to focus well on a picture, book, or fine print on a medicine bottle.
What causes nystagmus?
In most cases, nystagmus is congenital, appearing within the first few months of infancy.
Acquired nystagmus, however, can occur during childhood or later, in adults. There are many possible causes for sensory nystagmus, including brain trauma and a number of neurological disorders:
- Peripheral neuropathy
- Diabetic neuropathy
- Multiple sclerosis (MS)
- Neurological side effect of anti-seizure medications, such as Dilantin and Phenobarbital
- Head injury
- Brain tumor
- Metabolic disorders
- Idiopathic- no known cause
Peripheral Neuropathy- What is it, exactly?
There are several types of nystagmus that are classified according to different symptoms and eye movement behaviors.
Some common symptoms of nystagmus include:
- Eyes are constantly in motion
- Oscillopsia– vertigo, dizziness, and poor balance from constant movement
- Eyes veer over to one side and then jerk the other way
- Eye movements occur from side to side, up and down, or rotate
- Eye movements may change according to the way you hold your head or which way you’re looking
- Nystagmus is sometimes triggered by stress, loss of sleep, or bright lights
There is no known cure for nystagmus. Eyeglasses won’t stop your eyes from jerking involuntarily, although they will help improve any other vision problems which may exacerbate nystagmus.
In rare cases, surgery is recommended to correct nystagmus.
In addition to having your eyes checked, it’s important to address any other underlying health conditions which may be causing shaky vision.
In most cases, when acquired nystagmus is not caused by a tumor or head injury, it is often a symptom of nerve damage, which may result from MS, diabetes, alcoholic neuropathy, or peripheral neuropathy from vitamin B12 deficiency, including pernicious anemia.
In such cases, only treating the underlying health condition will eventually “cure” symptoms of dizziness, eye shaking, and the like.
Supplementing with extra vitamin B12 is a good suggestion, as blood tests for vitamin B12 deficiency are not always reliable, and may not show a true result.
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