Nystagmus is a condition that is characterized by rapid uncontrolled movements of the eyes. In this article, we will look into the causes of nystagmus in infants along with the symptoms of congenital nystagmus.
Words can neither describe the joy parents experience in watching their child for the first time, nor can they describe what they feel while watching their child grow. Once you bring your baby home, parents, especially those who are new to parenthood, need to prepare themselves for the responsibilities that they need to shoulder along with the challenges that lie ahead. Your little one is so vulnerable and it is your duty to take all possible steps to ensure that your child enjoys the best of health. So, if you notice anything unusual, you must seek medical help immediately. A child may develop a condition, or sometimes, could even have a congenital defect. Congenital nystagmus is one such birth defect which is characterized by unusual eye movements. Nystagmus refers to the involuntary and rhythmic back-and-forth movements of the eyes. This condition may be present at birth, or the child may develop it after a few weeks or months. Scroll down to find out more about the causes and symptoms of nystagmus in infants.
Nystagmus in Babies
Though nystagmus may be categorized into various subtypes, it is mainly classified into congenital nystagmus and acquired nystagmus. Acquired nystagmus is mainly caused due to neurological disorders that may develop later in life, whereas the symptoms of congenital nystagmus may be present at birth, or appear shortly after birth. Vision related conditions or conditions associated with the motor function could be responsible for causing nystagmus in newborns. Given below is some information on the medical conditions that are associated with nystagmus.
Albinism: Albinism refers to a congenital condition which is marked by the absence of pigment in the skin, hair or eyes. The pigment that gives color to the iris of the eye and also imparts color to the skin or hair is referred to as melanin. Sometimes, the partial or total absence of melanin may give rise to eye problems. The lack of pigment in the eye may have an adverse effect on the development of the retinal pigment epithelium. The iris may therefore, not be able to control the amount of light entering the eye which in turn may cause photophobia or other eye conditions such as nystagmus, optic nerve hypoplasia or astigmatism. Genetic predisposition certainly figures in the risk factors for albinism.
Aniridia: Aniridia is a congenital disorder that is characterized by abnormal pupils. It is caused due to the complete or partial absence of the iris. The iris is that part of the eye that controls the amount of light entering one’s eyes. The absence of this colored part of the eye is usually caused due to faulty genes. Aniridia is a severe type of iris hypoplasia (incomplete development of iris) that often leads to corneal changes. Children born with aniridia may develop nystagmus. Such children may also develop photophobia (increased sensitivity to light), cataract (clouding of the crystalline lens of the eye) or glaucoma (increased intraocular pressure), as they grow older.
Congenital Achromatopsia: This is an autosomal recessive vision disorder that is present at birth. It is basically a color vision disorder that causes color blindness. Rods and cones are two types of photoreceptor cells that are present in the retina. Achromatopsia is caused due to defective cone cells. While rod cells help one to see in dim lights, the cone cells help one to perceive color and also lend sharpness of vision. People suffering from achromatopsia are unable to perceive or differentiate between different colors due to defective cone cells. While problems associated with perception of colors is the characteristic sign of achromatopsia, other symptoms that one may suffer from include reduced sharpness of vision, pendular nystagmus or photophobia.
Congenital Cataract: Sensory nystagmus could also be seen in infants with congenital cataract. As mentioned earlier, cataract is characterized by the clouding of the natural lens of the eye. It is believed that pregnant women who develop infections such as rubella, measles, chickenpox, toxoplasmosis or syphilis may give birth to children with congenital cataract. Genetic predisposition to cataract is another risk factor.
Since nystagmus could be related to disorders of the brain or ocular disorders, parents must seek medical help if their child exhibits unusual eye movements. An ophthalmologist must be consulted if the child’s eyes rotate back and forth, or move horizontally, vertically or sideways. Vision problems, problems with balance and various other distressing symptoms could be accompanied by nystagmus. This could affect a child’s ability to lead a normal life. Though there isn’t a complete cure for this problem, certain methods can be used for helping such children cope with this condition. Vision problems that may accompany nystagmus can be corrected through use of glasses. One can also consult the doctors to find out about surgical options. Though a child could be diagnosed with idiopathic congenital nystagmus, wherein the exact cause of nystagmus is not known, in cases where an underlying condition has been determined, steps must be taken to treat that condition. Treating the underlying condition may also help in reducing the severity of the symptoms.
Parents must also try to find out ways to promote the child’s eye-hand-body coordination while playing with them. One can also consult a biofeedback therapist. It has been seen that symptoms of nystagmus may decrease when the patient gazes in a particular direction. The direction or angle at which the eye movements stop, is referred to as a ‘null point’. Surgery can be performed to move the eye muscles in a way that this direction of gaze is brought to the center of the vision field.
Nystagmus could either be present at birth or the signs of nystagmus may appear in an infant after a few months. If you do notice such signs in your newborn, consult an ophthalmologist immediately. Though it is believed that congenital nystagmus may not worsen with time, the underlying condition could worsen and hamper a child’s development. It is the responsibility of parents to tread with caution, and do whatever it takes, to help their child cope with this condition. Parental guidance and support will certainly help such children lead a better life.