There’s hardly a person who hasn’t experienced eye twitching at least once in their lives. This uncontrollable movement of the eyelid normally occurs rather unannounced – while you’re watching TV, reading or cooking. What happens is that you suddenly start feeling a muscle spasm or nerve jump in the area surrounding the eye. Although not life-threatening, there’s more to this phenomenon than we think.
According to science, ‘eye twitching is a repetitive, uncontrollable blinking or spasm of the eyelid, usually on the upper lid.’ This involuntary movement of the eye muscle, which can affect both eyes, can last anywhere from a few seconds to a couple of minutes. In rare cases the eye twitch can continue on and off for a couple of days before disappearing on its own. Needless to mention, the entire experience can be extremely annoying.
What causes eye twitching?
Unfortunately, even medicine hasn’t been able to give an accurate answer to what’s causing these eye spasms. They are normally attributed to stress and fatigue, but also to excessive amounts of caffeine, tobacco and alcohol. Eye twitching has also been linked to dry eyes, excessive eye strain, allergies, or irritation of the eye or the eye membrane. In some cases it occurs without a specific cause. In general, these eye spasms are harmless and painless.
On the other hand, there are cases when eye twitching is caused by some type of neurological disorder, such as blepharospasm (an abnormal blinking or spasm of the eyelids) or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Blepharospasm, which is more typical of women than men, normally develops in mid to late adulthood. Only in the US, there are around 2000 new cases every year. Although not serious, the condition can worsen if undetected leading to light sensitivity, blurry vision and muscle spasms on the entire face. In the worst cases, the eye spasms can even close the eyelids for several hours.
If you experience any of the following symptoms, consult an ophthalmologist as soon as possible:
- If your eye spasms last more than a week;
- If the spasms shut your eyelid completely;
- If spasms affect your entire face;
- If your eyes swell, redden or there’s eye discharge;
- If your upper eyelid starts drooping.
A prompt visit to a doctor will rule out any possibility of a neurological disorder. If, however, there’s a risk of one, you’ll be referred to a neurologist or other specialist.
If the underlying cause of your twitching is not a neurological disorder, you should try to deal with the issue by reducing your exposure to stress and your caffeine intake. Getting more quality sleep is also extremely beneficial. Optionally, you can try hot and cold compresses to relax the eye muscles. If you’re open for a more alternative approach, acupuncture and massage can also reduce the discomfort.