What Is Nystagmus?

Nystagmus is a condition where the eyes move rapidly and uncontrollably. They can move:

  • side to side (horizontal nystagmus)
  • up and down (vertical nystagmus)
  • in a circle (rotary nystagmus)

The movement can vary between slow and fast and usually happens in both eyes. The eyes may shake more when looking in certain directions. People with nystagmus may tilt or turn their head to see more clearly. This helps to slow down the eye movements.

Nystagmus in children and adults

There are two types of nystagmus: congenital and acquired.

Congenital nystagmus

This type of nystagmus starts in infants, usually between 6 weeks and 3 months old. Children with this condition tend to have it in both eyes, which move side to side. Usually doctors do not know what is causing the child’s condition. Sometimes it is inherited (passed down from parents to children).

Children with nystagmus typically do not see things as “shaking.” Instead, they may have some blurry vision.

Acquired nystagmus

This condition happens later in life. It has many causes, including serious medical conditions or drug and alcohol use.

Unlike children with congenital nystagmus, adults with nystagmus often say that things around them look shaky.