Children with nystagmus unable to recognise faces, researchers find

Post date: 
Monday, 6 February 2017
Jay Self with patient in clinic

Researchers in Southampton have discovered children who have the eye condition nystagmus struggle to recognise faces but not other objects.

It is hoped the new finding will lead to the development of more accurate diagnostic tests and better support for patients.
Funded by Nystagmus Network, the study compared how children with and without nystagmus look at faces using an innovative infrared eye-tracking device. Children were shown two different images on a computer screen at the same time while the device used infrared light reflected from the cornea of their eye to measure the time spent looking at each image.
When presented with a black and white checkerboard pattern and a plain grey panel, all children spent longer looking at the distinctive checkerboard and seemed to identify it very quickly – as expected by the clinicians.

However, when shown photos of their own mother's face and that of another woman, children without nystagmus spent longer looking at their mother and found their face very quickly, while those with the condition looked at both faces for the same length of time and seemed to struggle to identify their own mother’s face.

Jay Self, consultant paediatric ophthalmologist who led the study, said: “The findings could provide the basis of a more accurate diagnosis of nystagmus severity and measure of the efficacy of trial treatments, as well as improved social support and understanding for patients.”

About nystagmus

Nystagmus is a condition of uncontrolled eye movement. People who have nystagmus' eyes move constantly. This can be in a side to side, an up and down, or a circular motion, or a combination of these. This uncontrolled movement can affect how clearly they can see. Most people with the condition have reduced vision.
Although nystagmus, which affects affects between one and two in 1,000 people in the UK, 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.

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