There are many ways of assessing eye movements. Some of these are based on clinical observations and are qualitative. Other methods assess the extent of ocular movements, ie whether they are full and free, without impediment. However, quantitative assessment of oculomotor parameters requires accurate and reproducible measurements of the movements of the eyes in terms of measures of their size (usually in degrees of visual angle), their speed (usually measured in degree/sec) and their timing. This means using some apparatus which will give a signal of some sort which is proportional to the position of the eye in the orbit, and changes when the position of the eye changes in some direct way. This signal can then be recorded, calibrated and analyzed to provide the required information. The following describes various methods that are currently in use.
Because there is a permanent potential difference between the cornea and the fundus of approximately 1mV, small voltages can be recorded from the region around the eyes which vary as the eye position varies. By carefully placing electrodes it is possible to separately record horizontal and vertical movements. However, the signal can change when there is no eye movement. It is dependent on the state of dark adaption (used clinically to calculate the Arden ratio as a measure of retinal health), and is affected by metabolic changes in the eye. It is prone to drift and giving spurious signals, the state of the contact between the electrodes and the skin produces and other source of variability. There have been reports that the velocity of the eye as it moves may itself contribute an extra component to the EOG. It is not a reliable method for quantitative measurement, particularly of medium and large saccades. However, it is a cheap, easy and non-invasive method of recording large eye movements, and is still frequently used by clinicians.
If a fixed light source is directed at the eye, the amount of light reflected back to a fixed detector will vary with the eyes position. This principle has been exploited in a number of commercially available eye trackers. Infra-red light is used as this is "invisible" to the eye, and doesnt serve as a distraction to the subject. As infra-red detectors are not influenced to any great extent by other light sources, the ambient lighting level does not affect measurements. Spatial resolution (the size of the smallest movement that can reliably be detected) is good for this technique, it is of the order of 0.1° , and temporal resolutions of 1ms can be achieved. It is better for measuring horizontal than vertical eye movements. Blinks can be a problem, as not only do the lids cover the surface of the eye, but the eye retracts slightly, altering the amount of light reflected for a short time after the blink.
With the development of video and image analysis technology, various methods of automatically extracting the eye position from images of the eye have been developed. In some systems a bright light source is used to produce "Purkinje" images, these are reflection of the light source from various surface in the eye (the front and back surfaces of the cornea and lens). Tracking the relative movements of these images gives an eye position signal. More commonly a video image is combined with computer software to calculate the position of the pupil and its centre. This allows vertical and horizontal eye movements to be measured. However, image based methods tend to have temporal resolutions lower that that achieved with IR techniques. Spatial resolution can also be limited. As technology improves, the resolutions these systems can deliver will also improve.
When a coil of wire moves in a magnetic field, the field induces a voltage in the coil. If the coil is attached to the eye, then a signal of eye position will be produced. In order to measure human eye movements, small coils of wire are embedded in a modified contact lens or anulus. This is inserted into the eye after local anaesthetic has been introduced. A wire from the coil leaves the eye at the temporal canthus. The field is generated by two field coils placed either side of the head. This allows horizontal eye movement to be recorded. If it is necessary to also monitor vertical eye movements, then a second set of field coils, usually set orthogonally to the first set, it used. The two signals (one for horizontal, one for vertical eye movement) generated in the eye coil can then be disentangled using appropriate electronics. If the eye coil is of an appropriate design, then torsional movements can also be recorded. In experiments on eye movements in animals, the eye coils are frequently implanted surgically. The advantage of this method is that it has a very high temporal and spatial resolution allowing even the smalled types of eye movements (eg micrsaccades) to be studied. Its disadvantage is that it is an invasive method, requiring something to be placed into the eye. This method is rarely used clinically, but is an invaluable research tool.
Carpenter (1988) Movements of the Eyes. Appendix I "Methods of measuring eye movements"
Links to some of the manufacturers of eye movement measurement equipment and details of equipment currently being used in the Division are available on these pages.