Nystagmus is a condition that causes the eyes to make quick, repetitive, uncontrolled movements - from side to side, up and down, or in a circular pattern - making the eyes appear to bounce around. The jerky motion may be triggered by optical stimuli or physical motion, or may occur at rest. Nystagmus can be mild, occurring only when a person looks to the side, or it may be severe enough to impair vision. Nystagmus often makes it difficult to focus steadily on a fixed object.
Nystagmus can be an inherited condition, showing up in early childhood, or it can develop later in life due to an accident or illness. Nystagmus is often a symptom of an underlying medical problem, such as stroke, multiple sclerosis, or head trauma. Other causes of nystagmus include severe nearsightedness, albinism, inflammation of the inner ear, central nervous system diseases, and medication side-effects. Sometimes the cause may be unknown.
In persons with multiple sclerosis, lesions in the brainstem and cerebellum may interfere with the nerve signals that affect motion of the eyes causing nystagmus. According to the MS Foundation, approximately 35 percent of individuals with multiple sclerosis may develop nystagmus. Abnormal gaze-holding mechanisms, vestibular imbalance, and impaired fixation are the most common causes of nystagmus in multiple sclerosis.
I’ve been one of those 35 percent as I developed mild nystagmus about seven years ago. Mine is triggered by visual stimuli such as looking up and down repeatedly between the piano keyboard and music while I’m teaching. The nystagmus which develops can be somewhat disorienting.
Treatment for nystagmus depends upon the type of abnormal eye movements involved.
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MS Signs vs Symptoms: What is Nystagmus?