You must have felt the niggle of an eye or an eyelid twitch at some point or another. The causes of eye twitching can be as simple as fatigue and too much coffee and, rarely, as serious as a nerve problem. Though folklore will tell you otherwise, rest assured that a dancing eye doesn’t indicate you can expect a visitor, make money, or hear a bad news.
Eye twitching or blepharospasm can recur every few seconds or minutes and in most cases settles down on its own. What exactly leads to it is still unknown, but here are some of the possible causes of eye twitching.
1. Fatigue, Stress, Lack Of Sleep
Though annoying, a twitchy eye is often not serious. Fatigue, stress, lack of restorative sleep, and exposure to bright lights can all cause your eyes to twitch. This usually goes away on its own when you get enough rest.
If you have been cutting down on your sleep and drinking cups of coffee to make up for it, eye twitches are more likely.
2. Too Much Caffeine
You may experience eye twitching if you’ve been having more coffee, tea, or cola than usual. These contain caffeine, which is a stimulant and induces muscle contraction. It is possible that caffeine also induces the eye muscles to contract without any external trigger.
3. Dry Eyes
If you have dry eyes because of laser eye surgery, long hours of computer use, or too much alcohol intake, you can get frequent eye twitches.
Dry eyes, caused by certain medicines, skin diseases around the eye, lack of vitamins or an excess of them, refractive eye surgeries like LASIK, or even long hours of computer use, can lead to eye twitching.1 Alcohol is also responsible for drying your eyes and triggering eye twitches.
Pregnant women and those undergoing hormone replacement therapy complain of dry eyes more often, especially those on only estrogen.2 This is the reason eye twitching is a common tic in pregnant women.
Eye infections like conjunctivitis and blepharitis – an inflammation of the eyelid – could make your eyes twitch longer, say for a week or more. The eye twitches may even be caused by eye irritation as a result of an injury to the cornea.3
In middle-aged and elderly women, eye twitching may be caused by a nerve disorder called blepharospasm, where the eye-closing muscles contract too frequently and cause excessive blinking or twitching of the eyes.
Sometimes, eye twitches are caused by a progressive nerve disorder called benign essential blepharospasm (BEB). The condition is common in middle-aged and elderly women.4
As the muscles responsible for closing the eyelids (orbicularis oculi muscles) start contracting involuntarily, you blink more. As the condition progresses, the eyelids remain shut for longer periods of time. This is because the muscles that open the upper eyelid (levator palpebrae) fail to contract.5
BEB patients blink more than normal adults do, both during conversations and during rest.
The spasm usually occurs when you’re awake and settles down when you’re asleep.6A study found that patients blink more than normal people both during conversations and during rest. In fact, 76% of the patients blinked more at rest than during conversations. While normal adults blink 14 – 17 times per minute, patients in this study blinked over 27 times per minute on average.7 This, however, is not sufficient to diagnose blepharospasm.
BEB makes you as sensitive to light as migraine patients are. So use gray-tinted or FL-41 tinted lenses.
People with BEB are just as sensitive to light as those with migraines are. Researchers suggest using gray-tinted or FL-41 tinted lenses to avoid episodes of eye twitching.8
Are you taking in enough vitamin B12? Your BEB might be caused by its deficiency.
While the more severe form of blepharospasm, called secondary blepharospasm, is caused by lesions in the basal ganglia (the cluster of nerves in the brain responsible for motor control), brainstem, and thalamus, the exact reason for BEB is not known. Some researchers, however, suggest a vitamin B12 deficiency, which causes dystonia or involuntary muscle contraction.9Here’s a list of foods you should eat to avoid a B12 deficiency.
6. Hemifacial Spasm
A blood vessel throbbing against the facial nerve can lead to hemifacial spasms, which can close the eyelid.
Eye twitches are also generally the first symptom of a neuromuscular disorder called hemifacial spasm (HFS) where you experience frequent spasms in the muscles on one side of the face. The condition may manifest first as a twitching of the eyelid muscle, which can forcibly close the eyelid and spread to other muscles on one side of the face.
This disorder too is more common among middle-aged or elderly women.
It is usually caused by a blood vessel throbbing against the root of the facial nerve (the seventh cranial nerve), which controls the facial muscles.10 It could also be caused by a tumor or facial nerve injury. Sometimes though, there may be no discernible cause.11
People with high blood pressure have a higher risk of hemifacial spasm and, consequently, eye twitch.
A study found that most people with HFS have hypertension. It is likely that patients with high blood pressure would develop HFS during the course of the illness because of changes in the blood flow. High blood pressure can, therefore, be considered a risk factor.12There might also be a relationship between migraine attacks and hemifacial spasm.13
7. Other Brain And Nerve Conditions
In very rare cases, eyelid spasms could be an indication of brain and nerve conditions like:
- Bell palsy: The facial nerve is inflamed. This causes twitching in the facial muscles, dry eyes, and droopy eyelids, among other symptoms.14
- Dystonia: This disorder causes involuntary contractions of muscles, which manifest in repetitive twitching, twisting movements.15Blepharospasm can be called an eye dystonia.
- Parkinson’s disease: People with blepharospasm have a risk of developing Parkinsonian symptoms.16Trickily enough, while the drugs used to treat Parkinson’s may improve the condition in some patients, in others, they trigger the condition.
- Tardive dyskinesia: Long use of tranquilizing drugs to treat mental conditions like psychosis can lead to involuntary muscle movements, especially in the lower half of the face.17The condition can be improved by taking the patient off the drugs.18
- Tourette syndrome: In this nerve disorder, patients experience facial muscle twitching, blinking, and blepharospasm.19
- Brain tumor: A twitching or flickering eye can be a symptom of a tumor in the cerebellum. But this won’t be the only symptom. Headache, loss of balance, and vomiting are among the other common brain tumor symptoms.
Some Easy Self-Remedies Can Help
In most mild cases of eye twitching, some simple remedies can come in handy:
Sleep enough, destress your eyes by massaging the eyelids or by placing cool compress with rose oil on them, and give coffee a break.
- Get enough sleep and lay off the coffee.
- Gently massage the eyelids.20
- Place a cool compress with a few drops of chamomile or rose oil over the eyes for relief.
- Drink infusions of herbs such as chamomile or lavender to relax and relieve the tension or stress that might be causing your eye to twitch.
- Have homeopathic medicines like codeinum for twitching eyes and pulsatilla (windflower) if you also have inflammation. Your homeopathic doctor will be able to guide you on what is appropriate.21
See The Doctor If Twitching Continues Over A Week
Though eye twitches are usually not serious, it is a good idea to see your doctor if:
- The twitching continues for more than a week.
- The twitching causes your eyelid to completely close.
- Other parts of your face are also affected by spasms.
- Your eyelids are drooping.
- Your eyes are swollen or red, or they are discharging fluid.22
Cases of BEB23and hemifacial spasms24are usually treated with injections of botulinum toxin or Botox, as it is popularly known. Botox paralyzes certain muscles and keeps them from contracting. But before you opt for it, check out these side effects of botox. Surgery might also be recommended in certain cases.
|↑1||Eyelid Spasm and Twitching Causes. American Academy of Opthalmology.|
|↑2||Facts About Dry Eye. National Eye Institute.|
|↑3, ↑22||Twitching eye. Healthdirect Australia Ltd.|
|↑4||Valls-Sole, Josep, and Giovanni Defazio. “Blepharospasm: update on epidemiology, clinical aspects, and pathophysiology.” Frontiers in neurology 7 (2016).|
|↑5||Hallett, Mark, Craig Evinger, Joseph Jankovic, and Mark Stacy. “Update on blepharospasm Report from the BEBRF International Workshop.” Neurology 71, no. 16 (2008): 1275-1282.|
|↑6||NINDS Benign Essential Blepharospasm Information Page, National Institutes of Health.|
|↑7||Bentivoglio, Anna Rita, Antonio Daniele, Alberto Albanese, Pietro Attilio Tonali, and Alfonso Fasano. “Analysis of blink rate in patients with blepharospasm.” Movement disorders 21, no. 8 (2006): 1225-1229.|
|↑8||Adams, Wesley H., Kathleen B. Digre, Bhupendra CK Patel, Richard L. Anderson, Judith EA Warner, and Bradley J. Katz. “The evaluation of light sensitivity in benign essential blepharospasm.” American journal of ophthalmology 142, no. 1 (2006): 82-87.|
|↑9||Edvardsson, Bengt, and Staffan Persson. “Blepharospasm and vitamin B12 deficiency.” Neurology India 58, no. 2 (2010): 320.|
|↑10||What Causes HFS?. Centre For Cranial Nerve Disorders|
|↑11, ↑24||NINDS Hemifacial Spasm Information Page, National Institutes of Health.|
|↑12||Leong, Jia-Li, Hui-hua Li, Ling-Ling Chan, and Eng-King Tan. “Revisiting the link between hypertension and hemifacial spasm.” Scientific reports 6 (2016).|
|↑13||Barahona-Hernando, R., M. L. Cuadrado, S. García-Ptacek, A. Marcos-de-Vega, M. Jorquera, A. Guerrero, C. M. Ordás, S. Muñiz, and J. Porta-Etessam. “Migraine-triggered hemifacial spasm: three new cases.” Cephalalgia 32, no. 4 (2012): 346-349.|
|↑14||Bell Palsy. U.S. National Library of Medicine.|
|↑15||Dystonia. U.S. National Library of Medicine.|
|↑16||Micheli, Federico, María Clara Scorticati, Silvia Folgar, and Emilia Gatto. “Development of Parkinson’s disease in patients with blepharospasm.” Movement disorders 19, no. 9 (2004): 1069-1072.|
|↑17||Tardive Dyskinesia. U.S. National Library of Medicine.|
|↑18||Sachdev, Perminder. “Tardive blepharospasm.” Movement disorders 13, no. 6 (1998): 947-951.|
|↑19||Jankovic, Joseph, and Lael Stone. “Dystonic tics in patients with Tourette’s syndrome.” Movement Disorders 6, no. 3 (1991): 248-252.|
|↑20||Kakar, Sonia. The Little Book of Good Health: Facts, Tips and Habits. Exisle Publishing, 2013.|
|↑21||Shealy, Norman. The Healing Remedies Sourcebook: Over 1000 Natural Remedies to Prevent and Cure Common Ailments. Da Capo Press. 2012.|
|↑23||NINDS Benign Essential Blepharospasm Information Page. National Institutes of Health.|