Children's eye experts use innovative tests to diagnose disabling sight condition

Children's eye experts in Southampton are using a combination of innovative imaging and movement tests to help diagnose a disabling sight problem earlier and more accurately.

Nystagmus, which affects around one in 1,500 people in the UK, causes the eyes to 'wobble' and creates strobe vision, making it difficult for patients to see moving objects, recognise familiar faces or perform everyday activities.

Although the condition can develop in later life, it is more commonly found in babies and young children – known as congenital nystagmus – and can be caused by many different underlying conditions.

While there is currently no cure, just under half of sufferers can be treated for associated problems to help ease their symptoms – but, for more than 50%, there are no other medical conditions to treat.

"Nystagmus is a complicated condition which can occur as an isolated condition, alongside other eye diseases or as part of a neurological disease," explained Jay Self, a consultant paediatric ophthalmologist at Southampton Children's Hospital and associate professor of ophthalmology at the University of Southampton.

“Therefore, testing and diagnosing it has proved very challenging, however, we have introduced a number of new techniques which are allowing us to diagnose children much earlier and, in many cases, find a genetic cause.”

A hand-held optical coherence tomography (OCT) scanner, which enables clinicians to take images of the retina in children of any age, is now used routinely. Previously, images of the retina could not be obtained in children under five years old.

In addition, a state-of-the-art eye tracker allows specialists to measure visual dysfunction by assessing patients' eye movements in minute detail during various visual activities.

“As a result of these innovations – made possible by support from the Nystagmus Network, the American Nystagmus Network, the Gift of Sight Appeal charity and a legacy from the late Mrs Nicholas – combined with better genetic understanding, we are now seeing around 50% of children being diagnosed correctly,” said Mr Self.

“With more treatment options arriving for different eye diseases based on gene modification and stem cell technology, knowing why somebody has nystagmus has never been more important and these developments make it a very exciting time for patients and clinicians alike.”

Mr Self spoke out ahead of international nystagmus awareness day tomorrow (Wednesday) – also known as 'Wobbly Wednesday' – which will see his team man an information stand at Southampton General Hospital's eye unit during the day to highlight what it is like to have nystagmus and current research into the condition.

This will be followed by a quiz night at the Maritimo Lounge in Ocean Village, Southampton from 7.30pm to raise funds for the Nystagmus Network.

For more information about Wobbly Wednesday and the Nystagmus Network, contact the charity's executive manager John Sanders via john.sanders@nystagmusnet.org or 029 2045 4242.

Posted on Tuesday 3 November 2015