When your pediatrician first tells you your baby has nystagmus, it's only natural to feel overwhelmed. Tear, empathy, and a sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach are to be expected. But once the shock clears, it's time to get a handle on your situation and learn a bit more about what nystagmus is and how it will affect your baby's future.
What is nystagmus?
Nystagmus is a condition in which one or both eyes don't focus properly. You've probably noticed that your baby's eye or eyes twitch from side to side or up and down -- this is the hallmark trait of nystagmus. It's caused by a lack of strength in the muscles that control eye movement. Nystagmus is sometimes, but not always, accompanied by visual impairment. It will be difficult for an eye doctor or pediatrician to determine how severely your baby's vision is impaired until he or she gets a little older. However, you can rest assured that in most cases, visual impairment with nystagmus is correctable with glasses.
How will nystagmus affect your baby's development?
Nystagmus does not physically hurt; your baby is not in pain due to this disorder. However, it will present some challenges as he or she grows and develops. Your baby may take a bit longer than normal to learn to crawl, walk, or eat with a spoon. This is because fine motor skills are associated with vision, and your child will have a bit harder of a time focusing on the objects associated with developing these skills. Your pediatrician may recommend an occupational of physical therapist who can work with your baby and ensure he or she progresses properly in spite of the nystagmus,
How is nystagmus treated?
As jarring as it can be to hear that your baby has nystagmus, it's a really good thing that it was caught early. This increases the chances that the eye doctor can correct the issue without resorting to surgery. Your baby will probably have to wear either special glasses or an eye patch over once eye. This will force the weaker eye to work harder, strengthening its muscles. If both eyes are affected, your baby may have to wear a patch on one eye for a few months, and then on the other for a few months.
If your baby's nystagmus is severe, or if it does not respond well to non-surgical interventions, your eye doctor may recommend surgery to change the position of the muscles that control the eyes. While it can be tough to see your little one recovering from surgery, it's important to remember that undergoing this procedure will make things a lot easier later on when he or she must attend school, get a driver's license, and enter the workforce -- all of which are much harder to do when the eyes don't focus properly.
If you have additional concerns about your baby's diagnosis, don't hesitate to reach out to your child's doctor or seek treatment from a specialized eye doctor (such as Todd S. Kirk, MD).