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Circa 1980s, unrest brew among the miners working in the Derbyshire coal fields. A local physician concluded that their eyesight trouble was due to a new condition called “Miners Nystagmus” caused due to the miner’s working conditions. This was followed by numerous disputes ranging from whether the condition existed at all to whether “Miners Nystagmus” could be diagnosed even in the absence of nystagmus!



What is nystagmus?

Nystagmus is also widely called as wobbly eyes, refers to to-and-fro unintended, involuntary movements of the eye.

What causes nystagmus?

Nystagmus can be congenital i.e since birth or acquired. Nysatgmus that is present since birth is refered to as idiopathic infantile nystagmus or infantile nystagmus syndrome (INS). Though INS can happen along with sensory problems with your vision (like optic nerve or retina problems), it is not directly caused by these. INS is caused by instability in  the eye-movement control system. Researchers have found a gene (called Xp11.4 – p11.3) to be related to a few types of INS. INS can be a disorder that runs in families where the “nystagmus gene” is usually carried from the mother to her son.

Acquired causes could be related to some drug ingestion, alcohol intake, ear disease, neurological or due to trauma.


 Does nystagmus lead to poor vision?

Infantile nystagmus syndrome per se does not cause decreased vision but there may be associated sensory problems that may be responsible for decreased vision. In fact majority of people with infantile nystagmus syndrome lead a normal, active life. However emotional over burst as nervousness, anger or excitement may cause increase in the nystagmus and can reduce vision. Nystagmus goes away during sleeping.



How do I know that my child has nystagmus?

You will notice the child to have wobbly eyes. The child may attain a particular preferred head posture to see things as this is the position in which nystagmus gets dampened. Do not discourage your child from doing the same.


What are the tests for nysta5gmus?

Nystagmus can be diagnosed clinically. However waveforms may be recorded with a test called videonystagmography.



What is the treatment for nystagmus?

Currently infantile nystagmus syndrome cannot be completely cured but can be helped. The current treatment modalities help in reducing the abnormal head posture with improved visual function and cosmetic benefit in reducing the wobbly movements of the eyes.

The treatment modalities include medications in certain forms of nystagmus (mainly acquired nystagmus), prisms, contact lenses and is mainly surgical with procedures done on the extra-ocular muscles.

While the year 1907 saw miners receiving compensation for the condition, this short lived condition disappeared as a disease in the 1940s and 1950s. Strange, isn’t it?