HomeHealth TopicEye

What Causes Eye Twitching?

Kerry R. McGee, MD, FAAPSophie Vergnaud, MD
Updated on July 15, 2022

Key takeaways:

  • Caffeine, stress, and lack of sleep are some possible causes of eye twitching.

  • Most of the time, eye twitches go away on their own without causing problems.

  • If eye twitching is a problem for you, talk with a healthcare provider about eye twitching medications or other treatment options.

01:18

An eye twitch is a quick, repeated movement of your eye or eyelid. It happens on its own, and you can’t quite control it. Most people experience eye twitches from time to time. Usually, the movement is tiny and harmless.

Most eye twitches are easy to ignore, but occasionally eye twitches can last for a long time or even make it hard to see. In these cases they can become annoying, and it’s natural to wonder what’s going on.

If your eye twitch is bothering you — or if your eye just won’t stop twitching — getting to the root of the problem can help you and your healthcare provider find a successful treatment.

What is eye twitching? 

Eye twitches are quick, repeated movements of your eye or eyelid that come and go on their own. Thankfully, most eye twitches are not dangerous, and they typically go away in minutes, hours, or days.

Eye twitches are muscle spasms

Our eyelids are small, but they still contain muscles. When one of those muscles starts working overtime, you’ll experience an eyelid twitch.

All muscles, including the muscles in your eyelids, are made up of bundles of muscle fibers connected by a nerve. When the nerve is activated, the muscle fibers are triggered to contract (squeeze). Most mild eye twitches are caused by an overexcited nerve that triggers a few fibers in a muscle over and over again.

The orbicularis oculi is a circular muscle that goes around the eye. When it starts acting up, you’ll experience the most common type of eyelid twitch, called eyelid myokymia. When you have eyelid myokymia, only a few muscle fibers are triggered, so the movement isn’t strong enough to shut your eyelid completely.

What causes eye twitching?

Eye twitches are more likely to happen when your nerves are in an overexcited state. Certain factors in your environment can contribute to this. In the case of eyelid twitches, these factors include:

1. Caffeine

While caffeine might contribute to eye twitching, the effect generally depends on how much caffeine you have. The higher your caffeine intake, the more likely you are to develop an eye twitch.

2. Lack of sleep

Missing a couple of hours of sleep may not have a big impact, but sleep deprivation or fatigue raises the likelihood of eye twitching.

3. Stress

Stress is a known contributor of eye twitching. Attacks may be set off by emotional stress, surprise, or strain.

4. Anxiety

Much like stress, anxiety is linked to eye twitching. Healthcare providers recommend managing these conditions directly if they are causing problems for you. That said, the full impact of stress and anxiety on eye twitching is still being studied.

5. Eye strain

Many people believe that eye strain — especially eye strain caused by large amounts of screen time — can lead to eye twitches. There isn’t much science to support this idea. But staring at anything for a long period of time can make your eyes tired, and muscle fatigue can be one cause of eye twitches.

There’s another reason screen time might be linked to eye twitches: In general, people tend to blink less when they are watching TV or using a computer screen. Over time, this can lead to dry eye symptoms, including repeated blinking. And, sometimes, repeated blinking can feel like an eye twitch.

6. Medications

In some cases, medications taken for other health conditions might trigger eye twitches. Even though this can be bothersome, it’s important to continue taking your medication as directed. Talk to your healthcare provider before making any changes. 

Some medications that have been linked to eye twitching are:

Are there different types of eye twitches?

Yes. There are several types of eye twitches. And while most eye twitches aren’t dangerous, some can cause serious problems — and others could be a sign of something else going on. Common types of eye twitches include:

Eyelid myokymia (orbicularis oculi myokymia)

Eyelid myokymia is the most common type of eye twitch. It feels like a small part of one eyelid is jiggling gently. It occurs in normal, healthy people and goes away on its own after a few minutes — although it can sometimes last for a few days. It is not a sign of any serious medical condition.

Eyelid myokymia is not the same as superior oblique myokymia

Because the names are similar, it’s easy to confuse this condition with a different condition called superior oblique myokymia. Superior oblique myokymia is not an eyelid twitch — it is a twitch of the eyeball itself. This type of twitch can affect your vision, so it might need to be treated with medication. Fortunately, it is much less common than eyelid myokymia.

Blepharospasm (benign essential blepharospasm)

Blepharospasm — also called benign essential blepharospasm — is a bigger deal than eyelid myokymia. That’s because the twitch isn’t caused by individual fibers within a muscle. Instead, the entire muscle twitches, and that causes your eyelid to close completely.

At first, blepharospasm might just seem like you’re blinking too much. But you can’t control it, and over time the spasms can begin to last for minutes or hours. When blepharospasm happens in both eyes at once, it can interfere with vision, and that can be dangerous.

Hemifacial spasm

As you might be able to tell from its name, hemifacial spasm involves your face — not just your eyelid. This condition is triggered by damage to the nerve that runs to either the left or the right half of your face. It might begin as a twitch in one eyelid, but over time it can progress and affect your cheek, brow, and lips on the same side.

Because treatment for hemifacial spasm might require surgery, it’s important to talk to your healthcare provider if you are experiencing it.

Synkinesis

This happens when nerve signals get crossed, for example after an injury to the face. If you suffer from synkinesis, moving one part of your face will make another part move also. For example, smiling might cause your eyelids to squeeze shut. Sometimes synkinesis is mild and no one can tell it’s happening. Other times it can interfere with vision, and that can cause problems.

Should I worry about eye twitching?

Most mild eye twitches — specifically, those that sound like eyelid myokymia — aren’t anything to worry about. Since nearly everyone experiences these at some point, you can think of them as a normal part of life.

In rare situations, an underlying medical condition might be to blame

It’s a different story for severe eye twitches. If your eyelid twitch is more than just a little flutter, it’s possible a medical condition is causing it. Neurologic conditions like multiple sclerosis have been linked to more severe eyelid movement problems.

When should I see a doctor about eye twitching?

If your eyelid twitch is not following a typical pattern, it could be a sign of something bigger. Talk to a healthcare provider if you have an eyelid twitch that:

  • Is painful

  • Affects your vision 

  • Lasts longer than a few weeks without going away

  • Causes your eyelid to close completely (for longer than a blink)

  • Happens in both eyes at the same time

  • Comes with red, swollen, or irritated eyes

  • Goes along with twitches or movements in other parts of your body

What can I do to prevent eye twitching?

Since most common eyelid twitches go away on their own, there isn’t anything you need to do to stop them. But if you find them annoying, there are steps you can take to keep eyelid twitches from happening in the first place.

Since eyelid twitches often involve an overexcited nerve in your eye, take steps to relax your eyes, mind, and body. Some ideas include:

  • Making sure you get enough sleep

  • Limiting caffeine from coffee, tea, soft drinks, etc.

  • Avoiding smoking or vaping

  • Using the right lighting for your task or activity

  • Avoiding drinking alcohol

  • Finding ways to lower stress

  • Taking regular breaks away from your phone or computer screen

Treating other medical conditions can help

Staying on top of your health can help, too. For example, if you suffer from allergies or anxiety, take steps to get these conditions under control.

Treating dry eye can help, too. Dry eye is a condition that can make your eyes feel itchy, tired, or inflamed, and can lead to repeated blinking. Many people with dry eye don’t realize they have it. If you’re experiencing these symptoms, talk to your healthcare provider about ways to treat dry eye.

Some people benefit from medical treatment for eye twitching

When an eye twitch is causing problems that interfere with your routine, you might need medication. The most common eyelid twitching medication is Botox (botulinum toxin). It works by relaxing the muscles in your eyelid. 

Other treatments, such as vitamin supplements and tonic water, have been suggested to help prevent eye twitches, but these solutions don’t have any scientific data to back them up. For more severe types of eye twitches, surgery may be an effective option. 

If you’re unsure whether you need medication to help your eye twitching, talk with a healthcare provider. Make sure to share all your symptoms so they can help you come up with a plan that is right for you.

The bottom line

Although common, eye twitches can be annoying. Often taking simple steps — like limiting caffeine and getting enough sleep — are enough to solve the problem. Sometimes other treatment options, like medication or surgery, are needed.

References

American International Medical University. (2016). Benign essential belpharospasm: Causes, symptoms, and management.

American Society of Ophthalmic Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery. (n.d.). Eyelid spasms.

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GoodRx Health has strict sourcing policies and relies on primary sources such as medical organizations, governmental agencies, academic institutions, and peer-reviewed scientific journals. Learn more about how we ensure our content is accurate, thorough, and unbiased by reading our editorial guidelines.

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