Eye twitching or blepharospasm, is the uncontrollable, repetitive blinking of the eyelid – most often the upper lid. Most of us develop a twitch at some point in our lives. The spasm is often short lived, although it can occur over weeks or even months.
The cause of eye twitching is unknown. It is thought that the spasm is associated with fatigue, stress, and high caffeine consumption.
The Types Of Twitches
There are three types of eye twitches:
- Minor Eyelid Twitch. By far the most common spasm associated with the eye, the minor twitch is in almost all instances harmless and painless. While the cause of this spasm is not known, it is often associated with the use of alcohol, tobacco, caffeine, stress, or lack of sleep. Irritation of the membranous tissue lining the eyelids (conjunctivitis) or to the surface of the eye (cornea) can sometimes result in a minor eye twitch.
- Benign essential blepharospasm. Affecting between 20-50,000 Americans, the spasms begin in mid- to late-adulthood and worsen with age. Benign essential blepharaspasm usually begins with excessive blinking and can be accompanied by eye irritation. As the disorder increases it can lead to facial spasms, blurred vision, and sensitivity to light. In extreme cases, the spasm can become so severe that the eyelid remains shut for several hours.
It is though that benign essential blepharospasm is caused by a mixture of genetic predisposition and environmental factors. Fatigue, stress, or irritants (light, pollution, wind, etc.) are thought to be triggers for the disorder.
- Hemifacial spasm. This is the rarest form of twitching and also the most severe. Usually confined to only one side of the face, hemifacial spasms affect the muscles of both the eyes and mouth. It is caused most often by an artery pressing against facial nerves.
When To Get Help For Twitches
Most often harmless, there are times, however, when it is imperative to seek medical help for twitching. It can at times (very rarely) be a symptom of a neurological disorder such as Bell’s palsy, Dystonia, Parkinson’s disease, or Tourette’s syndrome. If you have the following symptoms seeks medical attention immediately.
- Redness, swelling, or discharge from an eye
- A drooping eyelid
- Spasms that involve other muscles of the face
- Twitching that completely closes an eyelid
- Twitching lasting more than a week
A Cure For Twitching
In most cases, the spasms will cease after a day or two. Reducing tobacco, alcohol, and caffeine intake can speed this up. Using over-the-counter drops to treat dry eye can also help by removing the cause of irritation to the eye, and consequently the twitching.
For more serious forms of twitching there are treatments. For sufferers of benign essential and hemifacial spasms, botulinum toxin (marketed as Botox) can be used to immobilize the affected muscles. While relief can last for months, the effect will wear off and require reapplication.
In some cases patients undergo a procedure known as a myectomy, where part of the facial nerves and muscles are removed.
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