Nystagmus Treatment Options and Surgery

The eye is a complex organ that is requires the coordination of several different muscles to focus on objects and relay sights to the brain. When the muscles of the eye do not work correctly, it can be almost impossible to see correctly. Nystagmus is one of the most common types of eye movement disorders, and it causes the eyes to involuntarily move around instead of focusing on sights.


People can either be born with or develop the disorder later in life, and it is generally caused by underdeveloped eyes, neurological problems, inner ear issues, or certain diseases and health conditions. The primary symptom is uncontrollable eye movements. The eyes may rapidly flicker back and forth, or eyes can slowly drift in random directions. Sometimes, people have manifest nystagmus, which means that symptoms happen constantly, but other people may suffer from latent nystagmus which only happens when one eye is covered. In addition to involuntary eye movements, people may experience nausea or dizziness due to their rapidly moving vision. Some people tilt or turn their head to try to find a null point, which is an eye position that allows images to be mostly stabilized.

Treatment Options

Many people who have nystagmus as infants or childhood slowly improve as they grow and their eyes develop. For people with inner ear issues, such as water in ears or inflammation in ears, the nystagmus may go away on its own once the condition clears up. Sometimes, wearing glasses or doing eye muscle exercises can help to control nystagmus, and some medications can slightly lessen eye movements. However, treatments do not always work, and if the condition will not go away on its own, surgery may be required to treat it.


Surgery primarily focuses on moving muscles to alter the tension of the muscles that move the eyes. One of the most common procedures is the Kestenbaum procedure, which moves the null point of a person with nystagmus so that the straightforward position of the eyes is the null point. This can be very beneficial because it prevents the strained head, neck, and shoulder muscles that can occur if a person with nystagmus is constantly holding their head tipped to achieve a null point. Other procedures can alter eye muscles slightly, making them tighter or more relaxed, so that eye movements are minimized. Most surgical procedures to treat this disorder just require minor incisions or small sutures. Often, general anesthesia is not required for surgery, and recovery time is only a week or two.

Learn more about our eye muscle surgery capabilities here. Contact us to schedule an appointment.