You’re stressed, haven’t been getting enough sleep, and you’re trying to compensate with lots and lots of coffee. You’ve been working in front of a screen for entirely too long, and—to top it off—now your eye is twitching too. It seems like a cruel joke for your body to add an annoying eye twitch when you’re already stressed out, leaving you with a new problem on top of all the others: why is my eye twitching?
Eye twitching is an involuntary eye muscle or eyelid spasm response that can come and go. It most often affects the upper eyelid, and usually only one eye. Though annoying, occasional eye twitching is common and in most cases is nothing to worry about. In rare cases, eye twitching can signal a larger medical issue.
Here are three reasons that should explain why your eye keeps twitching and when you should call a doctor.
1: Modern Lifestyles Can Trigger Harmless Eye Twitching
In the vast majority of cases, your eye twitch is not caused by an underlying disease or pathology, and is instead being triggered by stress, fatigue, too much screen time, or consuming too much caffeine—all hallmarks of a modern lifestyle and pandemic life in particular. Two kinds of eye spasms or twitching can be triggered by common conditions, like stress and fatigue: myokymia, which covers most of eye twitching cases, and benign essential blepharospasm, which is rare and affects both eyes.
Myokymia: Occasional Eye Twitching
The most common cause of eye twitching is totally harmless, and may come and go. Your doctor may refer to this kind of occasional benign eye tic as myokymia. Most often eyelid myokymia affects the lower eyelid and can last a few seconds or a few hours, though in chronic cases eye twitching can last days or weeks. Myoymia can usually lead to your left or right eye twitching, but not both at the same time.
While we don’t know exactly what causes myokymia, we do know that caffeine consumption, stress, and fatigue are associated with this kind of occasional eye twitch, and that it occurs more often in women and in cold weather. Myokymia usually resolves on its own by avoiding these triggers.
Benign Essential Blepharospasm (BEB): Persistent Twitching in Both Eyes
If you experience frequent, persistent eye twitching in both eyes at the same time, the cause may be a condition called benign essential blepharospasm (BEB). This is a rare condition affecting only about 2,000 people in the US per year, women more than men, starting in mid-adulthood. While the cause is unknown, it can be triggered by stress, caffeine, fatigue, and eye strain from driving, screen time, light exposure, or reading.
Though harmless, BEB can interfere more with your daily life than myokymia, and is treated with botulinum toxin injections to stop the spasms by relaxing the muscles.
How to Combat Common Eye Twitching Triggers
In the vast majority of cases, eye twitching will resolve on its own. But you can hurry the process along by addressing the likely triggers:
What you can do:
|Fatigue||Get enough sleep at night|
|Stress||Try stress reduction techniques like breathing, exercise, or meditation|
|Caffeine||Reduce your caffeine intake. If you absolutely can’t do without any caffeine, try replacing coffee with green tea.|
|Eye Strain||Watch your screen time, and try blue light blocking glasses|
|Lifestyle choices like alcohol and smoking||Cut back or quit|
|Light sensitivity||Wear sunglasses|
|Dry or irritated eyes||Try eye drops|
|Some medications||Talk to your doctor|
2: Hemifacial Spasms Can Cause Eye Twitching
In extremely rare cases, eye twitches are caused by hemifacial spasms, meaning spasms in the muscles controlling facial expressions. This is most often caused by an artery pressing on a facial nerve. Eye twitching caused by hemifacial spasms usually occurs only on one side of the face, with common triggers including anxiety, stress, fatigue, eyestrain, light exposure, chewing, and some head positions. Treatment options include botulinum toxin injections or neurosurgical microvascular decompression (MVD).
3: Rare but Serious Causes of Eye Twitching
In very rare cases, eye twitches can be caused by a brain or nervous system disorder such as Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, meige syndrome, brain damage from stroke, Bell’s palsy, or as a reaction to some mental health medications. In these cases, eye twitching is usually accompanied by other symptoms.
When to Call Your Doctor About Eye Twitching
Although the overwhelming majority of eye twitches resolve on their own and are no cause for alarm, call your doctor if:
- You experience changes in your vision
- Your eye twitch lasts more than a week
- Your eye twitch comes with redness, swelling, or discharge
- Your upper eyelid droops or closes completely
- You experience spasms in other facial muscles
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