Eye twitching, benign essential blepharospasm and hemifacial spasm are terms often used to refer to any of three separate conditions. Each type of twitch or spasm has a different cause.
Eyelid twitching (myokymia) affects only the eyelid. This type of twitch or spasm is very common and happens to most people at one time or another. It can involve either the upper or lower lid, but usually 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.
Eyelid twitching may be triggered by:
- Alcohol intake
- Bright light
- Caffeine excess
- Irritation of the eye surface or inner eyelids
- Wind or air pollution
Benign essential blepharospasm is a movement disorder (dystonia) of the muscles around the eye. No one knows exactly what causes it, but researchers believe it may be caused by a malfunction of certain cells in the nervous system called basal ganglia.
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:
- Corneal abrasion
- Dry eyes
- Light sensitivity
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
- Multiple sclerosis
- Oromandibular dystonia and facial dystonia
- Parkinson's disease
- Tourette syndrome
Eye twitching may be a side effect of drugs, particularly medication used for Parkinson's disease. 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 or swollen or has discharge
- Your eyelids are drooping