No, I’m Not Winking at You – How to Stop an Eye Twitch

Anyone who has been through it knows how frustrating and distracting a constantly twitching eyelid can be. It’s pretty tough to focus when it feels like your eye is trying to get your attention for some reason. Plus, people will notice that your face is twitching, even if they’re too polite to bring it up.

Here’s the bad news first: doctors aren’t yet entirely sure exactly what causes this, most of the time. There have plenty of educated guesses though, and research is ongoing. A few treatments have proven effective. How to stop an eye twitch depends on how severe it is, and what could be causing it.

Why Is It Twitching?

The majority of the time, there’s no discernible reason, and the twitching passes quickly. If it’s your upper eyelid that’s going haywire, it’s likely a blepharospasm, which is a strong twitch or contraction every few seconds. If it’s the lower lid, then chances are that it’s a myokymia, which is the scientific name for when a small group of muscles quivers involuntarily.

Either way, it’s harmless and painless, and usually goes away within minutes. However, it can last for weeks if you’re unlucky. Sometimes, the twitches can be powerful enough to completely shut your eye.

Again, all of the causes aren’t known, but there have been potential links to:

  • Fatigue
  • Stress
  • Allergies
  • Caffeine
  • Magnesium deficiency
  • Vitamin D deficiency
  • Dry eyes
  • Photosensitivity

It is also a potential side effect of certain medications, like drugs for sufferers of Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy, and psychosis. In addition to this, eye twitches are a known symptom of benzodiazepine withdrawal.

What Else Could It Be?

While most of the time the twitches pass quickly, it’s not unusual for them to go on for days or weeks. Occasionally, they don’t stop for months. Obviously, taping your eyes open Clockwork Orange-style isn’t an option, so what can you do if your eye won’t stop twitching of its own accord?

There’s a wide range of conditions that can cause your eye to constantly twitch, from the relatively benign to the potentially life-threatening.

In most cases, it’s enough to cut back on the coffee and get a good night’s sleep. But some of the more serious potential causes include:

  • Blepharitis (inflamed eyelids)
  • Dry eyes
  • Light sensitivity
  • Pinkeye

Much more rarely, it can be a sign of a nerve or brain disorder, such as:

  • Motor neuron disease (also known as ALS)
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Bell’s palsy
  • Tourette’s syndrome
  • Dystonia
  • Damage to the basal ganglia

If you go to see a doctor, and all other potential causes are ruled out, you might be diagnosed with Benign fasciculation syndrome (BFS). This is basically a catch-all diagnosis for any form of involuntary twitching that doesn’t have some nastier underlying reason. It almost always means that the condition is essentially harmless, even if it can be incredibly annoying.

The Types of Twitches, and How to Treat Them

The two most common causes for twitching eyelids are:

Minor Eyelid Twitch

This is the most often seen form of eyelid twitching, and it is closely linked with your health and lifestyle. It can be caused by a lack of sleep, stress, anxiety, and overuse of stimulants like caffeine. It can also happen if the surface of your eye or the lining of your eyelids become irritated.

Treatment:

Most of the time, it will stop pretty quickly. But sometimes the twitch will stick around, and this might have something to do with your day-to-day routine. Stopping your eyelid twitching may well be helped by adjusting your habits and lifestyle.

Try cutting back on caffeine, tobacco, and alcohol. Try to get a good night’s sleep at night, and to catch some sun during the day. Give your eyes regular breaks from staring at a screen.

If your eyes are dry or irritated, artificial tears or antihistamine eye drops might help. Another more direct approach is to apply a warm compress over your twitch and to then massage it gently.

Benign Essential Blepharospasm

A much rarer cause for a twitching eyelid, this condition normally turns up later in life. Its symptoms worsen over time.

It usually begins with constant blinking or eye irritation, and graduates on to light sensitivity, blurry vision, and facial spasms that can force your eyelid to stay closed for hours. The condition often starts in just one eye, but it will eventually spread to both.

There are some indications that it can be inherited, though it’s by no means guaranteed to show up even if your parent had it. It is also linked to stress, fatigue, and irritation caused by pollution, the wind, or bright lights.

Treatment:

It’s hard to find a cure when you’ve not found the cause of the problem, which is the case with this diagnosis for now. There are several approaches to treatment, with varying results, depending on the needs of the patient and the severity of the spasms.

Botox is a common solution, which means applying injections of paralyzing toxins to the muscles. This helps reduce or even stop the twitching. The treatment lasts for a few months, though it’s less effective for some people, and it might need to be topped up. It can also cause eyelid drooping in rare situations.

Certain drugs, like clonazepam and lorazepam, have also been shown to help mild cases in the short term, though generally drug treatments are short-term and they have unpredictable results. In more severe cases, surgery to remove the muscles responsible for closing the eye is an option.

Is This That Twitch Thing All the Kids Are Talking About?

If you’re being plagued by a constantly twitching eyelid, it will probably go away by itself and you have nothing to worry about. Even if it sticks around for a while, it isn’t very likely to be connected to a serious disease.

How to stop an eye twitch varies depending on the underlying cause. But most of the time, all that you need to bring your unruly muscles back into line is a good night’s sleep, a bit less coffee, and maybe a warm compress.

 

References:

https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/twitching-eyes-and-muscles/
https://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/condition/benign-essential-blepharospasm
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4862245/
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1738986/
https://physoc.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1113/jphysiol.2002.025064

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