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Eye twitching

Medically reviewed on January 11, 2018

Definition

Eye twitching, eyelid spasm and blepharospasm are terms used to refer to any of three separate conditions. They each have different causes, and one doesn't lead to the other.

Eyelid twitching (myokymia) affects only the eyelid. It can involve either the upper or lower lid, but only one eye at a time. The eye twitching can range from barely noticeable to bothersome. The twitching usually goes away within a short time but may recur over a few hours, days or longer.

Benign essential blepharospasm starts out as increased blinking of both eyes and may progress to the eyelids being squeezed shut. This type of eye twitching is relatively uncommon but can be extremely severe, affecting all aspects of life.

Hemifacial spasm involves twitches of muscles on one side of the face, including the eyelid.

Causes

Eyelid twitching may be triggered by:

  • Alcohol intake
  • Bright light
  • Caffeine excess
  • Fatigue
  • Irritation of the eye surface or inner eyelids
  • Physical exertion
  • Smoking
  • Stress
  • Wind

Benign essential blepharospasm is a movement disorder (dystonia) of the muscles around the eye. No one knows exactly what causes it. Hemifacial spasm is typically caused by a small artery that irritates a facial nerve.

Other conditions that sometimes include eyelid twitching as a sign include:

  • Blepharitis (eyelid inflammation)
  • Corneal abrasion (scratch): First aid
  • Dry eyes (decreased production of tears)
  • Entropion (inwardly turned eyelid)
  • Glaucoma (group of conditions that damage the optic nerve)
  • Light sensitivity
  • Trichiasis
  • Uveitis (inflammation of the middle layer of the eye)

Very rarely, eye twitching may be a sign of certain brain and nervous system disorders. When it is, it's almost always accompanied by other signs and symptoms. Brain and nervous system disorders that can cause eye twitching include:

  • Bell's palsy
  • Cervical dystonia (spasmodic torticollis)
  • Dystonia
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Oromandibular dystonia and facial dystonia
  • Tourette syndrome

Eye twitching may be a side effect of drugs, particularly medication used to treat epilepsy and psychosis. And eye twitching is sometimes the earliest sign of a chronic movement disorder, especially if other facial spasms develop too.

When to see a doctor

Eye twitching usually goes away on its own within a few days or weeks with rest, stress relief and decreased caffeine.

Schedule an appointment with your doctor if:

  • The twitching doesn't go away within a few weeks
  • Your eyelid completely closes with each twitch or you have difficulty opening the eye
  • Twitching happens in other parts of your face or body as well
  • Your eye is red, swollen or has discharge
  • Your eyelids are drooping

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