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When You Move Your Eyes, Do You Feel a Jolt? 4 Possible Causes

Posted on November 01, 2022
Medically reviewed by
Remi A. Kessler, M.D.
Article written by
Anastasia Climan, RDN, CDN

Multiple sclerosis (MS) can bring out unusual symptoms, leaving you wondering whether an altered sensation is related to the condition. For instance, several MyMSTeam members have expressed concern about what feels like an “electric shock” in their eyes.

“Does anyone else get this annoying feeling like electric shocks when you move your eyes from side to side? It’s driving me crazy,” said one member.

Another commented, “I’ve had this going on for years now and can’t really explain it. But when I move my eyes or look at bright lights, I get a shock through my body.”

Here are some possible explanations for why you might feel an unexpected jolt in the eye area.

1. Optic Neuritis

The optic nerve sends messages from the eye to the brain. If this nerve becomes inflamed, the resulting condition is called optic neuritis. Many people with MS experience optic neuritis, and it’s often one of the first symptoms of the condition. However, not everyone with multiple sclerosis has optic neuritis, and not everyone with optic neuritis has MS.

Optic neuritis is typically unilateral, meaning it affects one eye at a time. Symptoms may include:

  • Pain with eye movement
  • Dim or blurred vision
  • Sudden change in color vision (such as the color red looking gray or dull)

To diagnose optic neuritis, your doctor may order an MRI of the brain and eye sockets, along with spinal cord imaging to look for demyelinating lesions (damage to the nerves’ protective cover).

Optic neuritis doesn’t always require treatment because the condition often goes away with time. In about 80 percent of cases, optic neuritis symptoms improve within three weeks, and 90 percent of people recover after five weeks. However, for some people, it might take a year to fully recover. Severe symptoms call for a visit to the emergency department, and a doctor may prescribe a round of steroids to bring down the inflammation.

2. Photophobia

Light sensitivity, also known as photophobia, is another common symptom in people with MS or migraine. Sometimes light sensitivity is related to optic neuritis or uveitis (inflammation of the uvea, or middle eye). In addition, people with lighter color eyes are more susceptible to photophobia.

Protective glasses can help block out some of the rays that cause photophobia. Closing your eyes when it’s too bright out, wearing sunglasses outside, and darkening your rooms at home can also help.

One member of MyMSTeam shared, “I use special experimental contacts with dark brown filters for photophobia and a mild prescription for blurred vision. I also wear sunglasses on top of the contacts and sometimes a baseball cap. It depends on the situation.”

3. Trigeminal Neuralgia

The trigeminal nerve, or the fifth cranial nerve, may cause pain if it’s injured or compressed or if a lesion develops in that location. This condition is called trigeminal neuralgia. People have described it as feeling as though shockwaves are moving through their face, lasting up to several minutes per episode. Usually, trigeminal neuralgia affects people over 50, but it’s also seen in younger people with MS.

Trigeminal neuralgia is also sometimes referred to by its former name, tic douloureux. Triggers for the pain may include:

  • Brushing teeth
  • Eating or drinking
  • Putting on makeup
  • Smiling
  • Washing or touching the face
  • Getting a strong gust of wind in the face

Results of a neurological exam and an MRI can help a doctor diagnose trigeminal neuralgia. Medications, injections, and/or surgery can help keep the condition under control.

4. Lhermitte’s Sign

Lhermitte’s sign, also called the barber chair phenomenon, is a shocklike sensation experienced by roughly 33 percent of people with MS, according to one study with 114 participants. Typically, the “shock” is felt down the back of the neck and spine and through the arms and legs. People with MS may experience Lhermitte’s sign after bending their chin toward their chest (as though getting the back of their hair cut) or during moments of stress or fatigue.

Studies show that about 16 percent of people with MS have Lhermitte’s sign, according to the Multiple Sclerosis Trust. Treatment options include:

  • Meditation and massage
  • A neck brace or collar to avoid motions that trigger sensations
  • Posture adjustment by a physiotherapist
  • Medications for neuropathic pain
  • Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS)

What To Do About Eye Symptoms

People with MS also might experience nystagmus (involuntary eye movement) or diplopia (double vision). It’s important to report any new symptoms — even if they seem unimportant or temporary — to your neurologist. Everyone’s experience with MS is a little different. Discussing changes to your vision and eye function will help your doctor track signs of MS progression and allow you to get prompt MS treatment.

One MyMSTeam member wrote, “I went to the eye doctor yesterday for a complete eye exam. I was shocked to find out that my left eye has a damaged optic nerve and a vitreous detachment that may need eye surgery. The MS flare had indeed affected my eyes. I could go blind in that left eye. Amazingly enough, my vision is still good. I still need glasses and MUST wear sunglasses when it’s sunny. The bright lights really hurt.”

Your doctor may suggest lifestyle approaches, referrals, and medication changes to correct your vision, protect your eyes, and improve your quality of life with MS. A neuro-opthalmologist — a specialist in treating neurological disorders that affect the eyes — can help diagnose specific eye issues related to your nervous system or your MS diagnosis. In addition, connecting with a support group of people who understand what you’re going through will help you navigate unexpected symptoms and get tips on how to live better with MS.

Talk With Others Who Understand

MyMSTeam is the social network for people with multiple sclerosis and their loved ones. On MyMSTeam, more than 193,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with MS.

Have you noticed unusual symptoms since getting diagnosed with MS? How have your eyes and other body parts been affected? What advice do you have for other people living with MS? Share your tips and experiences in a comment below or on MyMSTeam.

All updates must be accompanied by text or a picture.
Remi A. Kessler, M.D. received her medical degree from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City. Learn more about her here.
Anastasia Climan, RDN, CDN is a dietitian with over 10 years of experience in public health and medical writing. Learn more about her here.

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