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Have you sometimes felt mild spasms either in your upper or lower eyelid? Maybe these eye spasms occur for a short duration of time and then they go away. Maybe they continue for a few hours. If yes, you might have wondered what causes your eye to twitch.

Well, eye twitching or Myokymia is an involuntary and repetitive spasm of the eyelid muscles. It is painless and mostly occurs in the upper eyelid but can occur in both the eyelids as well. For a majority of people, these spasms are extremely mild and can feel like a gentle tug on the eyelid. For some people, the spasms may be strong enough to force both the eyelids to close entirely. This condition is known as Blepharospasm.

Let’s look at the causes, related complications and when you should see an eye doctor.

What are the Causes?

Episodes of eye twitching are unpredictable and may occur on and off for a few seconds, minutes or several days.There is no identifiable cause as such. However, the below listed factors may cause or aggravate eye spasms or twitching:

  • Eye strain
  • Eye irritation
  • Fatigue
  • Physical exertion
  • Insufficient sleep
  • Side effects of certain medicines
  • Stress
  • Excessive consumption of tobacco, alcohol or caffeine

What are the Related Complications?

If your eye spasms become severe, you may be suffering from what is known as ‘Benign Essential Blepharospasm’ – a term for chronic and uncontrollable eye twitching. This condition mostly worsens over time and may lead to blurry vision, facial spasms or increased sensitivity to light. The exact cause is unknown but the following factors may make it worse:

  • Inflammation in the eyelid
  • Conjunctivitis
  • Dry eyes
  • Stress
  • Fatigue
  • Light sensitivity
  • Environmental irritants such as pollutants, bright lights, wind or sun
  • Smoking
  • Excessive consumption of caffeine or alcohol

In very rare cases the eye spasms may indicate a serious brain or nerve disorder especially if they are accompanied with twitches in other parts of your face. These disorders which may cause severe and persistent eye twitching include:

  • Bell’s Palsy – Also known as facial palsy, it causes one side of the face to droop downward
  • Parkinson’s disease – It causes muscle stiffness, trembling limbs, difficulty in speaking and balance problems
  • Tourette syndrome – It causes verbal tics and involuntary movement
  • Dystonia – It causes unexpected muscle spasms and the affected area twists or contorts
  • Cervical Dystonia – It is also known as spasmodic torticollis and is a disease of the central nervous system which causes movement and cognitive problems, fatigue etc.

Apart from these serious conditions, undiagnosed corneal scratches may also cause eyelid twitching

Undiagnosed corneal scratches can also cause eyelid twitches.

When to Visit an Ophthalmologist?

Generally, eye spasms stop without any intervention on your part. However, in case of chronic Blepharospasm, the eye keeps twitching for several weeks. You should visit an ophthalmologist as soon as possible if your eye twitching is persistent along with any of the following symptoms:

  • Red or swollen eye
  • Unusual discharge from the eye
  • Twitching spreads to other parts of the face

Regular visits to your eye doctor can help the doctor identify any early signs of underlying serious disorders. In case your eye spasms continue for more than a few days, consult your eye doctor at the earliest.