Oscillopsia is a vision problem in which objects appear to jump, jiggle, or vibrate when they’re actually still. The condition stems from a problem with the alignment of your eyes, or with the systems in your brain and inner ears that control your body alignment and balance.
Blurred, jumpy vision can be difficult to live with. You may be able to treat the condition that caused your oscillopsia, or adjust to the change in your vision.
What are the causes?
Oscillopsia is caused by nervous system disorders that damage parts of the brain or inner ear that control eye movements and balance.
One possible cause is the loss of your vestibulo-ocular reflex (VOR). This reflex makes your eyes move in coordination with the rotation of your head. If your VOR isn’t working, your eyes will no longer move in tandem with your head. As a result, objects will appear to jump.
Causes of VOR loss include:
- damage from medicines like gentamicin (an antibiotic)
- damage to nerves in the brain (cranial neuropathy)
- severe head injury
Another cause of oscillopsia is nystagmus. This is a condition that causes your eyes to shift from side to side, or jump up and down in an uncontrolled way. Nystagmus can affect your vision, depth perception, coordination, and balance.
Nystagmus is more common with:
- multiple sclerosis
- brain inflammation
- brain tumor
- head injury
- inner ear problems such as Meniere’s disease
- the use of certain medicines, such as lithium or anti-seizure drugs
What are the symptoms?
The main symptom of oscillopsia is jumpy vision. Objects that are still — like a stop sign or tree — look like they’re shaking or vibrating.
People with oscillopsia describe symptoms like these:
- jumping, jittery, wobbly, or shimmering vision
- blurred or fuzzy vision
- trouble focusing
- double vision
- vertigo, a sensation like the room is spinning
The shaking vision often occurs when people walk, run, or drive in a car. Once they stop walking, running, or driving, their vision stops moving. Some people experience jittery vision only when their head is in a certain position. Others experience jumpy vision even when they sit still.
Some people may eventually learn how to compensate for oscillopsia. Others may have permanently jumpy vision. If oscillopsia doesn’t improve, it can be very disabling.
Your doctor will treat any medical condition that might have caused your oscillopsia.
If nystagmus caused the condition, medicines like these might help:
- 4-aminopyridine (Ampyra), a multiple sclerosis treatment
- baclofen (Lioresal), a muscle relaxant
- carbamazepine (Tegretol) or gabapentin (Neurontin), epilepsy drugs
- clonazepam (Klonopin), anti-anxiety drug
- memantine (Namenda), Alzheimer’s treatment
Wearing special glasses or lenses can help reduce the visual effects of nystagmus. Another option is to get injections of botulinum toxin into the muscles that control your eye movement. However, Botox injections can make it harder to move your eyes normally, and their effects tend to wear off after a few weeks or months.
Exercises like these could help you adapt to, or even improve, your vision:
- Move your eyes slowly up and down and from side to side.
- Bend your head forward and backward, and from side to side.
- Move from a sitting to a standing position with your eyes open and closed.
- Walk across the room with your eyes open and then closed.
- Throw a ball from one hand to the other.
Your doctor or a physical therapist can recommend other exercises to try.
To diagnose oscillopsia, your doctor will start by asking about your medical history. You’ll also be asked questions about your symptoms, such as these:
- When does your vision wobble? Only when you move? When you’re still?
- Are your symptoms constant, or do they come and go?
- What does your vision look like, is it vibrating, jumping, or wobbling?
- Are the symptoms in one eye or both eyes?
Your doctor will do an eye exam to look for problems with the alignment of your eyes. You might also have a neurological exam to diagnose problems like multiple sclerosis. This could include imaging tests such as computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans.
Oscillopsia is related to a few different neurological conditions, including:
- Multiple sclerosis. In this autoimmune disease, the immune system attacks and damages the protective coating surrounding nerves. Oscillopsia can be a side effect of nerve damage.
- Inner ear problems like Meniere’s disease. Conditions like Meniere’s disease affect the inner ear, throwing off the body’s balance system and causing symptoms like vertigo and oscillopsia.
- Vertigo. Disorders that affect the vestibular system can also cause vertigo, which is a spinning sensation.
- Nystagmus. This condition, in which the eyes move back and forth or up and down, can cause oscillopsia.
The outlook depends on the cause of oscillopsia. Some conditions, like multiple sclerosis, are treatable. In other cases, oscillopsia is permanent.