Nearly everyone has experienced an eye twitch, and in most cases it is harmless. However, it is important to understand that twitching can warrant a prompt appointment with your doctor. Becoming familiar with the causes and symptoms will help you determine if you simply need to meditate and lay off the caffeine or if you need to go in for a checkup.
What is Eye Twitching?
Eye twitching is often referred to as fasciculation. This is a local, small, involuntary contraction and relaxation of the muscle. It is a very common condition and can affect either the upper or lower eyelid, or both. In some cases, the twitch occurs only in one eye, but both eyes can be affected simultaneously.
Although annoying, the twitching is generally painless. It is usually a temporary nuisance. Some may experience just a short episode, but for others, the twitching will return several times throughout the day, and can recur for days or months. If it progresses to where you are struggling to keep your eyes open, severe vision impairment can be resulted.
There are several reasons why you could be experiencing an eye twitch. In some cases, the cause is never determined.
- Stress – Everyone reacts to stress in a unique way. For some, eye twitching is resulted, and reducing the stress often eliminates the spasms.
- Dry Eye – Dry eye syndrome is prevalent among the older population. It is considered a sign of aging. Also, individuals who wear contacts, work on the computer, drink alcohol, or take certain medications often develop this condition.
- Eye Strain – If your eyes are being overworked, vision-related stress may occur that can cause twitching.
- Allergies – Itchy, swollen, and water eyes are common symptoms of allergies. When the eyes get rubbed, histamine is released into the tears and lid tissues. The histamine can contribute to twitching.
- Nutritional Imbalance – Although there is not sufficient scientific evidence to back up this claim, some reports indicate that nutritional imbalances can trigger spasms. A magnesium deficiency is often mentioned.
- Alcohol and Caffeine – Many experts suggest that alcohol and caffeine can both cause twitching, and reducing consumption can alleviate it.
- Fatigue – Lack of sleep can trigger eyelid spasms. So, striving for a healthy sleep cycle can help.
When is Eye Twitching Considered Serious?
In some cases, eye twitching is actually a condition caused blepharospasm. In this medical condition the basal ganglion functions abnormally. This part of your brain is responsible for muscle control.
Blepharospasm generally begins with excessive or abnormal blinking, which is accompanied by eye irritation. The frequency may increase as the day progresses. Spasms may get stronger as the condition progresses, and they can result in eyelids being forced shut for hours at a time. In cases where the eyelid remains closed it is often due to irritation of the cornea or conjunctiva. The cornea is the clear surface that protects the pupil and iris and the conjunctiva is the membrane lining of both eyelids and the whites of the eye.
In very rare cases, the twitching can be a sign of brain or neurological disorder, such as Tourette’s syndrome, Parkinson’s disease, dystonia, Bell’s palsy, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, the latter of which is more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
If your eye twitching persists for more than a week, or if symptoms worsen to the point of being bothersome you should make an appointment with your eye doctor. A comprehensive eye exam will be performed to rule out dry eye and other eye conditions. Your doctor will ask questions about your symptoms and family medical history. He will also evaluate your sensitive to light and look for other symptoms.
If eyelid twitching involves other facial muscles, then further evaluation is necessary. Your doctor will look for facial spasms, grimacing, or other symptoms, and will likely refer you to have a follow up appointment with your primary care provider.
Minor eyelid twitching will generally just go away on its own. If you can determine the cause and address the trigger, then the twitching may be stopped sooner. For example, caffeine-related twitching may be remedied by cutting back on your daily intake. Applying a warm compress to the eyelids can help relax the surrounding muscles to alleviate symptoms.
If the twitching will not go away, or if it is really severe, Botox® injections may be recommended. These will help stop muscle contractions. In this case you will be referred to a neuro ophthalmologist. If you have been diagnosed with blepharospasm, then surgery may be recommended. It involves cutting or removing certain nerves and muscles of the eyelid. Sometimes, neuromodulator injections or prescription medications are tried before resorting to surgery.
A small twitch is likely nothing for you to get worried about. However, if symptoms worsen or persist it is important to visit your doctor to determine if a more serious neurological or eye condition is to blame.