What Causes Nystagmus in Newborns?

Nystagmus, a condition in which the eye has rhythmic and involuntary movement or oscillation, is often caused by an underlying neurological or ocular disorder. Congenital, or infantile, nystagmus will appear in the first few months of life and usually affects both eyes in a horizontal direction. This condition does not occur while the child is sleeping. You should contact your doctor if you think your child may have nystagmus.


Genetics may be one cause of nystagmus in your newborn. Congenital nystagmus may be transmitted genetically as either an X-linked recessive trait or an autosomal recessive or dominant trait. Albinism is an X-linked trait, and Leber's amaurosis is an autosomal dominant trait. Albinisim is an inherited condition, present at birth, in which the body has a lack of melanin, the pigment that gives color to the skin, eyes and hair. According to Encyclopedia of Children's Health, everyone with oculocutaneous albinism experiences nystagmus.

Visual Deprivation

The most common cause of nystagmus in infants is due to visual deprivation. Visual deprivation includes glaucoma, retinal detachments and cataracts. Glaucoma is a group of eye conditions resulting in optic nerve damage, causing a loss of vision. In retinal detachment, the retina pulls away from the blood vessels that supply oxygen and nutrients to the retina. This may lead to permanent vision loss. A cataract is the clouding of the eye lens, which causes sight to become dim or blurred. If your infant is born with, or develops any of these conditions, it is possible your newborn will have nystagmus.

Developmental Abnormalities

Other causes of nystagmus in infants are coloboma and achromatopsia. Coloboma is a condition in which the eye does not form completely. Achromatopsia is a condition in which the infant cannot see color. Either of these conditions may result in your newborn having nystagmus. Another cause of nystagmus is down syndrome. Children with Down syndrome are at higher risk than other children of developing this eye condition.