Nystagmus is a jerking pattern of the eyes. Most commonly the eyes will look involuntarily from side to side in a rapid, swinging motion rather than staying fixed on an object or person (horizontal nystagmus). Sometimes the eyes can jerk up and down (vertical nystagmus).

There are a few different types of nystagmus:

Congenital - is present at birth. With this condition, your eyes move together as they oscillate (swing like a pendulum). Most other types of infantile nystagmus are also classified as forms of strabismus, which means the eyes don't necessarily work together at all times.

Manifest - is present at all times

Latent - occurs when one eye is covered.


Manifest-latent - is continually present, but worsens when one eye is covered.


Acquired - can be caused by a disease (multiple sclerosis, brain tumor, diabetic neuropathy), trauma, or a neurological problem (side effect of a medication). Hyperventilation, a flashing light in front of one eye, nicotine and even vibrations have been known to cause nystagmus in rare cases. Some acquired nystagmuses can be treated with medications or surgeries.


In addition to rapid eye movement, nystagmus symptoms include:

  • sensitivity to light

  • dizziness

  • difficulty seeing in the dark

  • vision problems

  • holding the head in a turned or tilted position

  • the feeling that the world is shaking


Surgical options are available for people with nystagmus. Surgery usually reduces the null positions, lessening head tilt and improves cosmetic appearance.

Drugs such as Botox or Baclofen can reduce some nystagmic movements, although results are usually temporary. 

If you have nystagmus, make sure you undergo regular eye exams so you can be monitored for both health and vision issues.

Both eyeglasses and contact lenses can help people with nystagmus see better, but generally contact lenses might be the superior alternative for many with nystagmus. With glasses, the eyes sweep back and forth over the lens centers and vision is not as clear. With contacts, however, the lens centers move with the eyes.