Nystagmus In Babies Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment

Nystagmus is an eye disorder which presents as involuntary oscillatory movement of both the eyes. In babies this disorder can be congenital or acquired within few months of life. Nystagmus in babies is called infantile nystagmus. Most often it is caused by an underlying neurological or an eye disorder such as congenital cataract, optic atrophy, albinism etc. Some babies may also suffer from torticollis. In some cases the cause may remain undetected; this type is classified as idiopathic.

Involuntary movement of the eye in nystagmus can be horizontal from side to side or circular or in some cases jerky. The abnormal movement gets aggravated when the child fixes his vision on one object or a place. Nystagmus increases with stress and fatigue. Because of abnormal eye movement, the baby is not able to balance his body properly. His vision is also poor.  Nystagmus is incurable condition but with the use of eye glasses, refractory error is corrected substantially.

Nystagmus In Babies Causes

Nystagmus is eye disorder which is defined as involuntary, repetitive oscillation of eyes. Nystagmus in infants can be at birth or may be acquired in 6 months of life. Nystagmus may be caused due to pathological cause or may be physiological. Most often the fault lies in the eye or the brain or the pathway between brain and the eye. When nystagmus is present in babies it is referred as infantile nystagmus.

Infant born with albinism usually suffer from congenital nystagmus. Albinsim is inherited disease involving melanin pigments. Patients suffering from albinism do not have melanin pigments which give color to hair, skin and eyes.

Certain eye diseases may also be responsible for nystagmus in first few months after birth. For example the child born with congenital cataract, detachment of retina, optic atrophy, and glaucoma may suffer from nystagmus as concomitant symptom. In congenital cataract there is opacity of the eye lens since birth. Injury to brain or the eye during the birth of baby can also lead to nystagmus. When there is no vision or neurological fault detected, it is called idiopathic nystagmus.

Nystagmus In Babies Symptoms

In babies the awkward movement of eyes often gives hint of nystagmus. But the child being small may not realize the problem. Repeated oscillatory movement of the eye is often missed by the ophthalmologist while examining the eyes; however the oscillations are detected on recording. Abnormal repeated involuntary movement can be to and fro horizontal. In few cases the movement can be circular. Usually nystagmus is present in both the eye together. But in certain neurological conditions, nystagmus can be unilateral. For example in case of optic nerve compression due to tumor in brain can lead to unilateral nystagmus. There may be associated neurological symptoms such as vomiting, headache in case the cause is neurological.

Poor vision is common symptoms with children suffering from nystagmus. Their acuity of vision is less due to refractory error at an early age. Because of poor vision, such children have repeated tendency to fall and they are not able to balance their body while walking or standing. Such children suffer from frequent limb and head injuries.

Many infants have associated torticollis. It is a condition in which the head and neck is abnormally turned in one direction.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Nystagmus is diagnosed during eye examination. The doctor will ask for any person suffering from nystagmus in the family. This is followed by ophthalmic tests in which the doctor examines the eyes with an opthalmoscope. This is necessary to detect if there is any congenital or acquired eye disease (congenital cataract, retinal detachment, optic atrophy etc). After the examination, the child is examined for acuity of vision. Most children with nystagmus have refractory error.

Nystagmus is incurable condition, but certain measures can be taken to deal with their daily difficulties. For example most children having refractory error due to nystagmus may be able to see better with eye glasses. Almost 50 to 60 percent of children have associated shortsightedness or long sightedness.

Eye glasses can help the child to read and write as he grows up. Some children may need more care such as they may need books that have large prints because of their vision problem. Unlike normal child, a child suffering from nystagmus may need more time to write and read while appearing for an exam. Surgical option is useful in severe cases of nystagmus.