Uncontrolled eye movements: how nystagmus can affect your vision and how a neuro-optometrist can help

At our optometry clinic, we specialize in the diagnosis and management of Nystagmus, a condition that causes involuntary eye movements.

Uncontrolled eye movements: how nystagmus can affect your vision and how a neuro-optometrist can help in Olympia

Nystagmus is a condition that affects the eyes and causes them to make involuntary and repetitive movements. These movements can be side-to-side, up-and-down, or in a circular pattern and can result in reduced vision, depth perception, balance, and coordination. People with nystagmus may also experience symptoms such as dizziness, headaches, and difficulty focusing. They may also nod and hold their heads in unusual positions to try and compensate for the condition.

While nystagmus is generally a symptom of another eye or medical problem, it can have a significant impact on a person's daily life. In addition to the visual disturbances, people with nystagmus may have difficulty with activities such as reading, driving, or working on a computer. They may also experience increased fatigue and stress, which can make the condition worse.

For these reasons, it is important to visit an optometrist that specializes in neuro optometry or low vision. These specialists can provide advanced treatment options such as neuro-optometric rehabilitation therapy, which refines and improves visual skills by strengthening the brain’s control over the eyes. Additionally, low vision aids such as special lenses and prisms can be used to help patients with nystagmus see more clearly. In rare cases, surgery may also be an option to improve vision by changing the position of the eye muscles that control movement.

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Improving visual outcomes for patients with Nystagmus: How neuro optometrists enhance vision and quality of life for patients with nystagmus

A wide variety of optics, therapies, prisms, filter lenses, and computerized low vision aids may be prescribed to reduce the symptoms of nystagmus.

Using Prisms to Improve Nystagmus Symptoms: How Neuro-Optometrists Utilize this Technique

Prisms are a powerful tool in the arsenal of neuro-optometrists for treating nystagmus. These specialized lenses, when added to eyewear, can improve the patient's appearance by changing the null position, the position in which the nystagmus is least severe, to a more normal position. Additionally, prisms can be used to induce more convergence, or turning in of the eyes, which can reduce nystagmus symptoms.


Magnification can help to slow eye movements for many patients which may assist in tasks like writing or reading. There are many types of magnification available including handheld magnifiers, stand magnifiers, digital CCTV magnifiers that are both portable and desktop, and magnification that is worn in glasses. 

Adjusting brightness and reducing glare

Light sensitivity is common among people with nystagmus. You can often improve your vision quality by adjusting the brightness, changing font size, and adding filters to enhance visual contrast on your computer screen.

Electronic devices to enable reading and reduce dizziness

There are a variety of technologies that use OCR technology to read text without needing to strain the visual system. One of the most advanced options is OrCam which incorporates cutting-edge technology that helps adults and kids with nystagmus have text read to them in their ear. This can lead to a dramatic improvement in the quality of life for a patient with nystagmus who struggles to read, use a cell phone, or do other reading tasks, and may also lessen headaches and dizziness when reading, using a digital device, or copying from the classroom board.

Contrast sensitivity training

A recent clinical study presented at the annual meeting of the European Strabismus Association found that 80% of patients with congenital nystagmus who underwent treatment with the RevitalVision program experienced an average improvement of 2 lines on a visual acuity chart. This substantial progress allowed some patients to even qualify for a driving license.

Vision Therapy for Nystagmus

Nystagmus is an eye condition in which one or both of the eyes make involuntarily repetitive eye movements, which can result in reduced vision, depth perception, and difficulty with balance and coordination. Vision therapy is a personalized program that can help remediate these symptoms by addressing the underlying causes of nystagmus.

One form of vision therapy that has been found to be effective in treating nystagmus is Syntonics. Syntonics is a type of therapy that utilizes colored filters to send coded signals to the brain, which can help to slow down or stop the involuntary eye movements associated with nystagmus. This therapy can also help to improve focus and clarity, restore the electrical connection between the brain and eyes, improve binocularity and alignment, and establish depth perception.

Vision therapy and syntonics can impact the vision and quality of life of a person with nystagmus by: 

  • Slowing down the involuntary rhythmic motion of the eyes in order to regain proper fixation.
  • Improving focus and clarity. 
  • Restoring the electrical connection and fostering improved communication between the brain and eyes. 
  • Improving binocularity and alignment
  • Establishing stereopsis (depth perception)

Prescription lenses

Prescription eyeglasses or contact lenses can help reduce refractive errors, such as myopia, hyperopia, and astigmatism in patients with nystagmus. This can improve their vision and make daily tasks, such as reading and driving, easier to perform. Additionally, some special types of glasses and contact lenses are designed specifically for people with nystagmus that may help reduce the symptoms of the condition.

Refractive surgery

It is important to note that while strabismus surgery may help to improve the alignment of the eyes and reduce head tilts, it is not a complete treatment for nystagmus. Additionally, it is important to note that not all cases of nystagmus are suitable for surgery and it is important to consult with our eye doctor and an ophthalmologist to determine if surgery is an appropriate option for you.

It's also worth mentioning that even if surgery is performed, it's not a guarantee to completely stop the eye movements and it's not able to improve the visual acuity. It's important to have realistic expectations and to consider all the options for treatment before making a decision.

Discontinuing medication

While discontinuing certain medications may improve nystagmus symptoms, it should only be done under the guidance and supervision of a healthcare professional. Medications may be essential to the treatment of other underlying conditions, and stopping them abruptly could have serious consequences. It is important to work closely with your healthcare team to determine the best course of treatment for your specific condition.

Symptoms of nystagmus

  • Decreased visual acuity
  • Loss of balance
  • Poor depth perception
  • Vertigo which could lead to nausea, vomiting
  • Light sensitivity
  • Oscillopsia
  • Problems with posture
  • Blurred vision

Consultation with our neuro optometrist

Nystagmus can have various underlying causes such as genetics, brain injury, or inner ear problems, so it's important to consult with a neuro optometrist to determine the underlying cause of the condition. Our neuro-optometrists specialize in the rehabilitation of patients with visual disorders caused by neurological conditions and can work with patients to develop a personalized treatment plan to manage their nystagmus and maximize their vision. They can use various techniques such as prisms, therapies, filters and special glasses to reduce the symptoms and improve the quality of life for patients with nystagmus. You can schedule a neuro optometry exam at American Family Vision Clinic by calling (360) 491-2121.

Symptoms of nystagmus
Symptoms of nystagmus

Symptoms of nystagmus

There are two main types of nystagmus. It can be genetic or acquired.

Congenital motor nystagmus

This type of nystagmus occurs shortly after the birth, under the age of 6 months, and affects the child throughout their life. Children with this type of nystagmus have normal vision. It can be caused by abnormalities in the structures of your eye like cornea, lens, retina, underdeveloped optic nerves or absence of the colored part of the eye called iris. Another cause of it is abnormalities in the visual pathways in the brain. To find the exact cause of nystagmus, an MRI scan of the brain may be required. 

Congenital sensory nystagmus

Sensory nystagmus is the type of nystagmus in which the child has impaired vision. The onset of this type of nystagmus usually occurs around 2-3 months of age and lasts for the rest of the child's life. Nystagmus in this form is characterized by uncontrolled repetitive movement of the eyes in a horizontal direction.

Acquired nystagmus

This form of nystagmus does not develop until late in childhood or adulthood. It could be due to due to the following neurological and medical causes:

  • Stroke
  • Brain injuries
  • Tumors
  • Central nervous system disorders
  • Metabolic disorders
  • Alcohol
  • Drug toxicity
  • Cancer
  • Genetic disorders
  • Functional brain abnormalities
  • Diseases of the vestibular system
  • Damage to brainsteam
  • Damage to cerebellum
  • Albinism
Symptoms of nystagmus

How common is Nystagmus in the United States?

Nystagmus has a reported incidence rate of at least 1 in 1,000 individuals in the United States. Among school-aged children, it is considered one of the most common forms of visual impairment. However, it is worth noting that the actual incidence rate may be higher as not all cases are diagnosed or reported.

Dr. Zurcher cartoon

Schedule a neuro-optometric evaluation in Olympia for nystagmus

If you or a loved one is experiencing symptoms of nystagmus such as involuntary eye movements, it is important to seek help as soon as possible. Our neuro-optometrist can work with you to determine the underlying cause of the condition and develop a personalized treatment plan to manage your symptoms and improve your vision quality. Schedule a neuro optometry exam at American Family Vision Clinic by calling (360) 491-2121 today to start on the path to better vision. 

Patients with neurological conditions affecting their vision, such as Nystagmus, visit our clinic from all over Washington, and we are proud to be a leading provider of neuro optometric rehabilitation services for patients from Olympia, Lakewood, Tacoma, and Lacey.



Such a nice optician. My grandson is only 4 and needs glasses. We were so sad, but he explained the issues, and we will follow up as he suggested.

Anna P.

I had such a good experience with the clinic. Very friendly staff and doctor, did not have to wait for long to be called, and was treated respectfully. Thanks, American Family.

June S.

Dr. Zurcher has gone above and beyond what any other eye doctor has ever done to figure out what is going on with my eyes. Very happy with American Family Vision.

Christine R.

Family Vision Clinic changed our lives! My daughter was frequently car sick, and she was getting headaches every day, often painful enough that they brought her to tears. We saw a string of doctors and therapists, but we made no progress. Finally, we found Dr. Levi Zurcher and his eye therapist Rain. After ten weeks of eye therapy my daughter no longer gets headaches, and she no longer gets car sick. Daily tears are a thing of the past. I really can’t say enough about this clinic. It was fascinating to watch Dr. Zurcher work. For the first time, someone who knew what they were doing was intently studying my daughter, really trying to figure out all of her eye issues, and his therapist Rain is one of the most patient and lovely people that I’ve ever had the good fortune to meet. We’re finished with eye therapy—yay!—and I have switched to American Family Vision Clinic for all of my family’s other eye health needs.

Lars Wulff

Very professional, yet kind and helpful. They do what they can to make the appointment comfortable. I was running a bit late, I made sure ti call. They were able to switch me with a patient who was already there, they treated me with respect, and helped my son have confidence by getting him the eye care he needed that day. Thank you so much! Would recommend to anyone. It's a blessing that they care enough to work with people who have all different types of insurance from work to state coverage.

Justin E.

The staff is friendly. The Doc is very knowledgeable. The office is family friendly and everyone is so patient with the little ones.

Amy Fagerness
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