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UNC Ophthalmology pauses this week to recognize International Nystagmus Day, which occurs annually on June 20th. This day of awareness focuses on a lesser-known ophthalmic disorder that affects millions of people worldwide and has no known permanent cure. Nystagmus causes the eyes to make rapid, repetitive, and uncontrolled movements and usually happens in both eyes. 

Congenital nystagmus affects children from birth typically starts between 6 weeks and 3 months. This form of nystagmus cannot be cured via corrective measures, but glasses or contact lenses help slow eye movements for a child to have clearer vision. Rarely, surgery may be done to reposition a patient’s eye muscles to keep their head in a more comfortable position and limit eye movement. Early-stage diagnosis of nystagmus by an eye specialist is critical to assess what can optically be done to optimize a child’s vision and quality of life.

Acquired nystagmus occurs later in life and is characteristically described as shaky vision by adult sufferers. This form of nystagmus can disappear if the serious medical condition or drug and alcohol abuse causing the nystagmus are treated or removed via behavioral efforts.

UNC Professor of Ophthalmology Dr. Kathy Whitfield diagnoses and treats nystagmus. She notes:

“It is important to evaluate both congenital and acquired nystagmus to rule out any serious underlying conditions and treat as indicated. It is rewarding to improve the patient’s vision and quality of life optically or surgically whenever possible, and to encourage the family in the process.”

Parents of children and adults experiencing symptoms of nystagmus should call the UNC Kittner Eye Center at 984-974-2020 to schedule a comprehensive eye exam that screens for a nystagmus diagnosis.