How to Stop Twitching Eye
Almost everyone has experienced eye twitching – or, more accurately, eyelid twitching. The medical term for this uncomfortable sensation is eyelid myokymia or also blepharospasms. While they are rarely seen by other people, they can feel very noticeable to those experiencing them. Despite the fact that eye twitches are incredibly common and generally harmless, they can still be extremely irritating and distract you from getting on with your everyday life. We’ve put together this guide on eye twitches, from what causes them to how to get them to stop.
Eye twitching: the basics
The most common form of eyelid twitching is when the lower eyelid of one eye starts to jump, flicker or quiver sporadically and uncontrollably, usually every few seconds for a minute or two. Sometimes the upper eyelid can twitch rather than the lower eyelid. Both eyes can be affected, but not usually at the same time. With eye twitching, the symptoms are very unpredictable: you may feel spasms just once or twice, or they may come and go for a day or two.
What causes eye twitching?
The main muscles around the eye that are involved in eyelid twitching are called the levator palpebrae superioris, which raises your eyelid, and the orbicularis oculi, which closes your eyelid. These muscles are thought to twitch if the nerve cells (neurons) that supply them misfire. However when the problem lasts longer than a few days or weeks, or when it keeps recurring, eye twitching can be a sign of a medical condition. One of these conditions is a type of blepharospasm called benign essential blepharospasm. This is fairly uncommon but it can begin to seriously affect your quality of life as it causes you to blink far more than normal and could develop into your eyelids becoming squeezed shut. Blepharospasm can also run in families, and there is a theory that it is linked to a genetic problem affecting part of the brain called the basal ganglia.
Another cause of eye twitching is a corneal abrasion. This is the medical term for a scratch on the clear front surface of the eye (the cornea). As well as twitching, a corneal abrasion can cause pain and a gritty sensation, redness, watering, sensitivity to light, headache and blurred vision.
Lifestyle causes of eye twitching
If you experience occasional, short-lived eyelid twitching, one of the following lifestyle factors is likely to be behind it:
Situations that put you under pressure are generally considered to be among the most common causes of eyelid twitching. In one study, researchers investigated eyelid myokymia in medical students and found it was most common when the students were studying for exams and just before taking exams.i They also discovered that the rate at which they experienced eyelid twitching increased the longer they studied, and that female students were affected more frequently than males.
Lack of sleep
Not getting enough sleep is considered another leading cause of eyelid twitching. This may be because the muscles around your eyes are sensitive and need regular relaxation. Not getting enough sleep may also overstimulate your sympathetic nervous system, which controls many of the body’s involuntary activities. As a result, the muscles that control your eyelids can start to spasm, and the more tired you get, the worse the twitching can become.
When your eyes, and the muscles around them, are working very hard, it can lead to eye strain and eye twitching. This can explain why some people find their eyelids start to spasm when they use digital screens for prolonged periods. Understanding how to prevent eye strain might be a good first step towards stopping your eye twitches for good.
Caffeine and alcohol
If you’re predisposed to eyelid twitching, there’s a chance anything that stimulates your nervous system will make the nerves and muscles around your eyelids hyperactive, making the muscles twitch. Caffeine and alcohol can stimulate the nervous system because they trigger the release of certain chemicals. This may explain why your eye might twitch after you’ve had a night out at the pub or when you’ve been drinking lots of coffee in a day.
An infection that causes inflammation in the eyelid called blepharitis is another possible cause of eyelid twitching. Other symptoms of blepharitis include sore and itchy eyelids, eyelids that look swollen, crusty or greasy, a burning or gritty sensation in your eyes and increased light sensitivity. Blepharitis isn’t usually serious and can be treated by practising good eye hygiene.
Is eye twitching a sign of a brain tumour?
Twitches, spasms and jerking motions in general can be symptoms and signs of brain tumours, but eye twitching is only very rarely caused by them. There are, however, several brain and nervous system disorders that can cause eye twitching – again these are uncommon. They include:
The main sign of Bell’s palsy is when one half of your face droops. This makes one half of your face droop, but for most people the effect is temporary. Nobody knows exactly what causes it, but it could affect you after you’ve had a viral infection (a cold sore, for example, or chickenpox) or it may have something to do with inflammation of a nerve that controls the muscles on one side of your face. Most mild cases don’t usually last longer than a month.
This condition causes uncontrolled and sometimes painful muscle cramps and spasms. If you have dystonia parts of your body may twist into unusual positions, and you may experience tremors (shaking) and you may blink uncontrollably. For some people the symptoms are continuous, but for others they come and go. There are treatments for dystonia, one of which is having Botox injections in the affected muscles.
Also called torticollis, cervical dystonia is a type of dystonia that affects your neck muscles. This can make your head twist towards one side, or tilt upwards or downwards. Your head may also move in a jerking motion. It’s a rare disorder, but the symptoms can be reduced with Botox injections.
Classed as an autoimmune disease, multiple sclerosis (MS) is a neurological condition that affects the brain and spinal cord. It has a variety of signs and symptoms that vary from one person to another, with the most severe cases causing significant disability. Other vision problems besides eye twitching that can be caused by MS include blurred vision, double vision and partial or complete loss of vision.
A common symptom of this progressive nervous system disorder is tremors, which often start gradually, typically in just one hand. The disease is caused by neurons in the brain breaking down gradually or dying. Experts don’t know exactly what causes it, but your risk for developing Parkinson’s may be greater if you have a close relative with the disease. Other risk factors include age (the disease usually develops in those aged 60 or older), gender (men are more likely to develop Parkinson’s than women) and arguably exposure to toxins such as pesticides.
People with this disorder experience tics that are difficult to control, such as sudden, repetitive muscle movements including blinking, and vocal tics, from coughing to repeating words or phrases and using swear words. Nobody knows what causes Tourette syndrome, but it can run in families and men are more likely to be affected than women. There’s no cure, but treatments are available that help manage the symptoms.
How to stop a twitching eye
Most cases of mild eyelid twitching will resolve themselves within a day or two. But there are certain things you can do to try to stop them or prevent them from reoccurring:
Avoid stress and make time for regular relaxation. Discover more in our guide to self-help for stress.
Reduce your intake of caffeine, coffee, non-herbal tea, caffeinated soft drinks and chocolate.
Get plenty of sleep
Take regular breaks from using your computer, tablet or smartphone to avoid eye strain
Try using hydrating eye drops.
Apply a warm compress to the affected eye as warmth can help relax the muscles. If a warm compress isn’t effective, try a cold compress.
Can low levels of vitamin B12 cause eye twitching?
Alongside lifestyle changes, there may be evidence to suggest that nutrient deficiencies might be causing eye twitching. Some experts believe that vitamin B12 deficiency may be linked to blepharospasm.ii
There is also a theory that that eye twitching could be a sign of vitamin B12 deficiency, but there’s currently a lack of reliable clinical evidence to confirm it.
According to the NHS, the symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency includeiii:
Pale, yellowish skin
A sore and red tongue
Pins and needles
Changes in the way you move, think, feel or behave
Cognitive problems, such as a decline in memory, understanding and judgement
You can get the vitamin B12 you need from foods such as meat, fish and dairy products. However if you have a generally poor diet or you’re a vegan you may not be getting enough, and you may need a B12 supplement.
Can magnesium be helpful for eye twitching?
One symptom of a magnesium deficiency is muscle spasms. This is because magnesium plays a key role in normal nerve and muscle functions. However, scientists believe many people aren’t getting the recommended daily amount of magnesium in their dietsiv, which in the UK is 300mg for men and 270mg for womenv.
Good food sources of magnesium include green leafy vegetables, nuts, wholegrain bread, fish, meat, dairy foods and brown rice. You can also boost the amount of magnesium you get from food by taking a good-quality supplement (look for a product that contains a maximum of 400g magnesium per day, as taking higher doses can cause diarrhoeav).
Medical treatments for eyelid twitching
If self-help measures don’t help or if the twitches in your eyelid become more severe or more frequent, you may need to see your GP or an eye specialist. While there aren’t any treatments for mild eyelid twitching, if it becomes severe it can be treated with a surgical procedure called a myectomy or by having Botox injections, which can help stop the muscle contractions. In addition, the NHS recommends that you should also see a GP if your twitch lasts for more than two weeks, if you have a twitch in more than one place, or if you think a prescription medicine you’re taking may be causing the problem. It’s also a good idea to get help from a medical professional if you have any accompanying symptoms such as discharge from the affected eye, eye redness or swelling, vision problems, if you feel lightheaded or if your eyelid starts to droop.
For even more advice on how to keep your eyes healthy, feel free to visit our dedicated Vision Health Hub.
Hadzic, S., Kukic, I., Zvornicanin, J. The Prevalence of Eyelid Myokymia in Medical Students. British Journal of Medicine and Medical Research. ISSN: 2231-0614, Vol.: 14, Issue.: 6. Available online: http://www.journalrepository.org/media/journals/BJMMR_12/2016/Mar/Zvornicanin1462016BJMMR24910.pdf
Edvardsson, B., Persson, S. Blepharospasm and vitamin B12 deficiency. Neurol India. [serial online] 2010 [cited 2018 Nov 29];58:320-1. Available online: http://www.neurologyindia.com/article.asp?issn=0028-3886;year=2010;volume=58;issue=2;spage=320;epage=321;aulast=Edvardsson
DiNicolantonia, J.J., O'Keefe, J., et al. Subclinical magnesium deficiency: a principal drive of cardiovascular disease and a public health crisis. Open Heart 2018. 5(1): e000668. Available online: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5786912
Available online: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/vitamins-and-minerals/others
Disclaimer: The information presented by Nature's Best is for informational purposes only. It is based on scientific studies (human, animal, or in vitro), clinical experience, or traditional usage as cited in each article. The results reported may not necessarily occur in all individuals. Self-treatment is not recommended for life-threatening conditions that require medical treatment under a doctor's care. For many of the conditions discussed, treatment with prescription or over the counter medication is also available. Consult your doctor, practitioner, and/or pharmacist for any health problem and before using any supplements or before making any changes in prescribed medications.
Christine Morgan has been a freelance health and wellbeing journalist for almost 20 years, having written for numerous publications including the Daily Mirror, S Magazine, Top Sante, Healthy, Woman & Home, Zest, Allergy, Healthy Times and Pregnancy & Birth; she has also edited several titles such as Women’ Health, Shine’s Real Health & Beauty and All About Health.