Nystagmus (Eye Shaking)

Nystagmus is a medical condition in which the eyes move involuntarily, often shaking back and forth. These involuntary movements may be horizontal, vertical, or sometimes even rotational. The movements may be very subtle, very prominent, or somewhere in between. They can be fast or slow. They usually affect both eyes.

Nystagmus itself is not a diagnosis — it is a sign of another disease. Nystagmus in children is caused by three different categories of disease:

  1. Ocular/eye problems
  2. Neurologic problems
  3. Motor nystagmus

People with nystagmus due to eye problems have abnormal vision, and this decreased visual ability causes the eyes to shake. Ocular causes of nystagmus include childhood cataracts, optic nerve developmental problems, and genetic retinal diseases like Leber congenital amaurosis, albinism, retinitis pigmentosa, or achromatopsia, among others. Pediatric ophthalmologists like Dr. Colburn and Dr. Weed are well-equipped to determine whether your child's nystagmus is due to an ocular condition. 

Other people have nystagmus due to a neurological problem. There are many different areas within the brain that help control steady, normal eye movements, and problems with each can cause different types of nystagmus. Children with neurological nystagmus often have other medical issues as well, such as delays in meeting their childhood milestones. For patients in whom neurological nystagmus is suspected, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans of the brain are often ordered, and the child's primary care provider may consult a neurologist for assistance.

So what about the final category, motor nystagmus? Patients with this type of nystagmus have had the first two types ruled out. They have otherwise normal eyes, and no neurological problems — their eyes just "like to shake." Their vision is usually mildly blurry, and this usually remains stable over time.

If you would like to make an appointment for your child to learn more about their nystagmus, please call us at 509-456-0107.