Eye Twitching: Harmless Annoyance… or a Cause for Concern?

Most eye twitching is due to stress. Before you write it off as a temporary annoyance, though, consider possible links to such disorders as Parkinson's disease or Tourette's syndrome.

eye twitching

Eye twitching may be a harmless annoyance that doesn't require medical care. But be aware that it also could be a symptom of a more serious condition.

© Denys Kovtun | Dreamstime

Occasional eye twitching is a benign but annoying condition. It often lasts only a few minutes to an hour, usually involves only one eyelid, and is related to fatigue, stress, or both. A relaxing maneuver—even a stress-releasing giggle at its arrival—can sometimes end the involuntary eye twitching.

But eye twitching also can be an early symptom of a serious neurological disease, such as Bell’s palsy, Tourette’s syndrome, Parkinson’s disease, or dystonia, a condition where your muscles contract uncontrollably.

Eye twitching that interferes with vision (such as your eyelid closes shut), persists over a week, or worsens over time should not be ignored. If you also experience redness, a drooping eyelid, a discharge, or swelling, you should seek immediate medical attention.

What Is Myokymia?

Most people with stress-activated eye twitching experience it in only one eye, although it may be the upper or the lower lid. This involuntary movement, called myokymia, is usually harmless. However, if it’s severe—in that it lasts for a long time or reappears frequently—it can damage to your eyelids or other facial muscles.

Eye twitching that involves both eyes closing—like involuntary excessive blinking—may be due to a neurological condition called blepharospasm. With blepharospasm, the brain sends abnormal messages to the eyelid muscles, and the eyes close. Eye twitching that includes muscles spasm in the face may be due to a neurological condition called hemifacial spasm. Both these conditions require medical attention.

Eye Twitching Triggers

The most common causes of benign, or harmless, eye twitching probably won’t surprise you:

  • Alcohol consumption
  • Caffeine consumption
  • Eye strain
  • Fatigue
  • Heredity/Genetic
  • Magnesium deficiency
  • Stress

Eye strain is often due to long hours at a computer, tablet, or even your phone. You should look away from the screen every 20 minutes, focusing your eyes on a distant object. Blinking several times helps keep the eye wet, which eases strain. Better yet, if you can, get up and go for a walk around the office for a couple of minutes. You’ll reduce stress physically, mentally, and on your eyes.

Magnesium is involved in muscle and nerve control, energy production, bone health, digestion, blood-sugar control, and heart health. Eye twitching and other muscle spasms are symptoms of magnesium deficiency. As we age, our bodies require more magnesium. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), a male over 51 years of age needs 420 milligrams (mgs) of magnesium per day. A woman needs 320 mgs. A well-balanced diet should supply enough, but most people do not eat properly.

If you’ve recently changed your eyeglass or contact lens prescription, it’s important to report new eye twitching to your eye doctor. Eye twitching could also occur because it’s time for a new exam and prescription, as you’re straining your eyes.

Techniques for reducing eye twitching include:

  • Apply a warm compress to the eye; some experts suggest alternating that with a cool compress.
  • Use eye drops or a saline solution to lubricate the eye.
  • Drink water to ensure you’re not dehydrated.
  • Consider using an eye pillow or eye mask when you sleep to soothe the eye area and help you relax.
  • Get more sleep, and take a nap during the day, if possible.
  • Cut back on alcohol and caffeine consumption.

The Stress Factor

By far the most frequent cause of benign eye twitching is acute stress—the type that hits you without warning—such as your boss suddenly asking why you’re two projects behind deadline.

You can often resolve acute stress by breathing deeply via breathing exercises. Take several deep breaths through your nose, not your mouth. Breathe in slowly and exhale slowly. This technique reduces blood pressure and naturally relaxes your body. You can usually feel tension leaving your shoulders first.

For those who like holistic supplements, lavender oil and passionflower are herbal supplements that have some research behind them to support reducing anxiety and stress.

Of course, prescription medications can help relieve stress, such as Valium or an antidepressant medication. Your doctor may discuss you joining therapy sessions as well, especially if your stress is reaching a level where your eye twitching is fairly constant.

Eye twitching that becomes disruptive to your life may need medical treatment. Botox (onabotulinumtoxinA) is FDA-approved for blepharospasm, where both eyes blink incessantly. It is injected into the eyelid muscles and blocks signals from the nerves to the muscles around the eye.

For further reading, see these University Health News posts:

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Cindy Foley

Cindy Foley is the editor of several health reports, including Managing Your Cholesterol, Core Fitness, and Brain Power & Nutrition, among others. Foley has worked in the private medical practice field … Read More

View all posts by Cindy Foley

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