Eye twitching? Why it happens and how to stop it
That annoying muscle spasm could be your body’s way of saying “take a break.”
You’ve got a deadline to meet, and you need to focus. The only problem? Your eye won’t. Stop. Twitching. Although this distraction is mostly out of your control, there are a few things you can do to prevent and treat this frustrating flutter.
What causes eye twitching?
Eye twitching, also known as myokymia, is common and usually isn't cause for concern.
“Myokymia is caused by small, involuntary contractions of the muscles around your eye,” explains Spencer Onishi, DO, an ophthalmologist at Geisinger Healthplex Woodbine. “Typically, eye twitching is your body’s way of telling you to pay attention to your stress levels, sleep habits or caffeine consumption.”
Some common causes of eye twitching include:
- Too much caffeine or alcohol
- Eye strain or irritation
- Dry eyes
- Smoking or tobacco use
When the twitching affects both eyes or spreads to other parts of your face, it might be a sign of a chronic condition.
Benign essential blepharospasm: This rare neurological condition causes uncontrollable blinking and spasms in both eyes. Eventually, this progressive condition can make it difficult to keep your eyes open and can prevent you from driving or completing everyday tasks.
Hemifacial spasm: If twitching only affects one eye and moves to other areas on the same side of your face, it could be the early signs of hemifacial spasm, which is usually caused by compressed nerves.
For both conditions, Dr. Onishi says medications and treatments like Botox® injections can provide relief and stop symptoms.
How to stop eye twitching
Eyelid twitching usually lasts anywhere from a few hours to a few days and goes away on its own. But Dr. Onishi says there are a few simple steps you can take to treat the twitch at home.
Take a deep breath
Reducing stress is good for your whole body, including your eyes. Take some time to recharge and release your stress through self-care activities like exercise, meditation or practicing your favorite hobbies.
Breathing exercises like square breathing are an easy way to reduce stress wherever you are:
- Start by slowly breathing in through your nose for four seconds.
- Hold your breath for four seconds.
- Slowly exhale through your mouth for four seconds.
- Hold for four seconds.
- Repeat steps 1–4 for a few rounds.
Tossing and turning at night can lead to eye twitching during the day. Work on revamping your sleep routine and getting at least seven hours of sleep per night.
Still can’t sleep? It might be time to talk to your doctor, especially before trying a sleep aid.
Cut back on caffeine
Speaking of snoozing, it’s tempting to reach for another shot of espresso when you’re overtired, but too much caffeine can make twitching worse.
According to the FDA, most adults shouldn’t exceed 400 mg of caffeine (about four or five 8-ounce cups of coffee) per day. This limit can vary based on things like how sensitive to caffeine you are or whether you’re pregnant.
If you’re cutting back, it’s best to gradually reduce your caffeine intake to avoid the side effects (like headaches) that can come from quitting cold turkey.
Reduce your screen time
Whether a computer, television, phone or tablet, most of us spend our days staring at screen after screen. Dr. Onishi suggests giving your eyes a break by following the 20-20-20 rule.
“Every 20 minutes, take a break from looking at a screen and spend 20 seconds looking at something about 20 feet away,” suggests Dr. Onishi. “These frequent breaks can help prevent eye strain throughout the day.”
If you’re going to stare at a screen at night, many devices now have options to turn on blue light filters.
“Not only do blue light filters help reduce eye strain, but they can also help you get a better night’s sleep,” explains Dr. Onishi.
Moisturize your eyes
Another reason to reduce your screen time? It can dry out your eyes.
“When we spend our days staring at a screen, we blink less, which can lead to dry eyes and twitching,” says Dr. Onishi. “Try using artificial tears to help keep your eyes moisturized.”
If you’re a contact lens wearer, dry eyes and irritation are also a sign to give your peepers a break and temporarily switch to glasses.
Apply a warm compress
Preventive methods aren’t working? Applying a warm compress to your affected eye can help relax the muscles and provide relief.
“Eye twitching is usually nothing more than tiny muscle contractions, so using a warm washcloth and gently massaging the area can help when your muscles are tensing up,” suggests Dr. Onishi.
When to see a doctor
If one or both of your eyes are twitching for more than a few weeks or you notice other symptoms, it may be time to visit a specialist.
“Any time you have pain, redness, vision changes or drooping eyelids, it’s a good idea to check in with your eye doctor,” explains Dr. Onishi. “They can help you nail down a cause and provide prescription treatment options if needed.”
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