Why Do Eyes Twitch?

It’s late at night, and you’ve been working on your computer for hours. You’ve been staring at the bright screen, drinking coffee to finish a tight deadline, and haven’t gotten proper sleep in days. That’s when it happens – your eye begins twitching of its own accord, and this strange flutter of your top eyelid may go on for a few minutes. You struggle to control it, but in those moments, it feels like your brain isn’t in control of your eyelids anymore!

This experience is commonly called an eye twitch or an eyelid spasm, but why does it happen at all?

Short Answer: The cause of eye twitching is not precisely known, but there are a number of risk factors or potential causes, including fatigue, nutrient deficiency, caffeine consumption, stress and environmental factors, among others.

The Science of an Eye Twitch

Scientifically known as a blepharospasm, eye twitching is the involuntary spasming of the eyelid muscle. This condition typically only lasts for a few minutes, and can affect anyone with certain nutritional or lifestyle profiles. The twitching of the eyelid, which can affect the upper or lower lid, may occur every few seconds and manifest in various levels of severity.

Some people describe the eye twitching as a gentle tug on the lid, as though the eyelid wants to close but isn’t strong enough to do so. For other people, the twitching may be much stronger or last longer, forcing them to close their eyes entirely until the episode passes. Depending on the underlying cause of the blepharospasm, you might have a string of these short episodes over the course of a few days, but can then go months without it happening again. They can come about with no warning, and disappear just as quickly.

This is a strange experience for anyone, but it is generally considered harmless. That being said, eye twitching can be indicative of a more serious medical condition, and in rare cases, potentially life-threatening diseases. Before we can understand the risk factors and potential treatments for eye twitching, it is important to know about the different varieties of eye twitching, as some should be taken more seriously than others.

Types of Eye Twitching

There are three main types of eye twitches: minor eyelid twitch, benign essential blepharospasm and hemifacial spasms. Each of these has some overlapping symptoms and causes, which can make diagnosis slightly difficult.

A Minor Eyelid Twitch is the most common and widespread example of eyelid twitching. This usually lasts for a few minutes and is caused by fatigue, stress, an irritant in the corner of the eye, or the use of caffeine, tobacco or alcohol. Nearly everyone will experience this type of eye twitching at some point in their lives. It is annoying, but rarely debilitating, so there is no need to see a doctor.

A Benign Essential Blepharospasm is a more serious variety of eye twitching, but is considerably more rare than minor twitches. Affecting women more often than men, this is a condition that typically won’t appear until adulthood, but may gradually worsen over time. This condition begins with an increase in the rapidity of your blinking, followed in some cases by sensitivity to light, blurry vision and spasms of the eyelid and face. The cause of this has been attributed to stress, fatigue, air pollution or dry eyes, but most experts believe there is also a genetic component, in addition to the environmental causes, because it is often seen within the same family.

A Hemifacial Spasm is the least common form of eye twitching, and is actually considered a rare neuromuscular disease that causes involuntary spasms on half of the face. Occurring in only 1 of every 100,000 people, this condition is quite uncommon, but does come in two forms. Typical hemifacial spasms are when the spasms spread from your eyelid to your cheekbones and mouth gradually, often over the course of months of years. Atypical hemifacial spasms spread from your mouth to your cheekbone and finally cause eyelid twitching. If you are experiencing any chronic spasms in your face, it is a good idea to speak with a doctor.

Causes of Eye Twitching

In most cases, eye spasms are caused by a combination of factors, such as fatigue, caffeine consumption, stress, allergies, dry eyes, nutritional deficiencies or eyestrain. If you are annoyed by these episodes of twitching, even if they’re infrequent, you can try avoiding some of these common causes, or at least have a better idea of why your face seems to be acting of its own accord!

Stress and fatigue are probably the two most common risk factors for eye twitching. When your body is tired, or has been operating at a heightened level for too long (the chronic presence of stress hormones), the body’s muscle control may begin to weaken, resulting in the twitching of your eyelid. Breathing exercises, yoga and proper sleep levels can all help to remedy this frequent risk factor for blepharospasm.

Caffeine and dietary factors are also frequently to blame for eye twitching, but these are easy risk factors to fix. If you drink a lot of coffee, cutting back on caffeine is definitely wise, both for eye twitching and heart health. Furthermore, if you aren’t taking in enough nutrients, particularly electrolytes and other minerals that impact muscle movement, then eye twitching is a much greater risk.

Eyestrain is a serious problem in this day and age, with smartphones, tablets and laptops being a constant presence in our lives. Focusing on a screen for that long will exhaust your eye muscles, and the “warning signal” from the body may come in the form of eye twitching.

Allergies and Dry Eyes can both increase your risk of eye twitching, as the eyes will feel irritated and possibly inflamed, which could cause the eyelid to react with a spasm. There are many different eye drops that can quickly remedy irritated or dry eyes, regardless of whether they are caused by allergies, wind or an underlying medical condition. The twitching may also be coming from exposure to air pollution or other environmental irritants, which is harder to avoid, depending on where you live.

References:

  1. MayoClinic
  2. Wikipedia
  3. BritishMedicalJournal.com
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About the Author:

John Staughton is a traveling writer, editor, publisher and photographer who earned his English and Integrative Biology degrees from the University of Illinois. He is the co-founder of a literary journal, Sheriff Nottingham, and the Content Director for Stain’d Arts, an arts nonprofit based in Denver. On a perpetual journey towards the idea of home, he uses words to educate, inspire, uplift and evolve.

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