While normally harmless, twitching can occur all of a sudden and can be very irritating. What doctors refer to as fasciculation is commonly known as an eye twitch. BETTER VISION explains the causes, how we can relax our eyes to overcome twitching, and what we can do to prevent it.
We’re fully aware that our eyelids move regularly when we blink, which covers our eyes with sufficient tear film to keep them hydrated. But if an eyelid suddenly moves quickly and erratically, as if it‘s fluttering, then something’s not quite right – and there are a number of possible causes. Normally, there’s nothing to worry about.
If you notice your eyes start twitching, don’t panic – it’s a normal occurrence, and usually only happens to one eye at a time. Twitching can vary in severity –either you hardly notice it at all, or your upper or lower lid could be going haywire. Twitching is normally harmless, even if it lasts for several days.
Twitching is normally triggered by stress, nerves, anxiety, too much caffeine, tired eyes (due to computer work or heavy use of digital devices), high blood pressure or a lack of sleep. All of these factors strain on our nerves and can cause involuntary muscle spasms around the eyes. To be more precise, discharges from the facial nerves (Nervus facialis) cause spontaneous twitching of the upper eyelid (Musculus levator palpebrae superioris) and the lower eyelid (Musculus orbicularis oculi).
A mineral deficiency, normally related to magnesium (hypomagnesiemia), is often cited as another cause. Magnesium is important for ensuring that muscles and nerves communicate well. In the event of a deficiency, the nerves may send incorrect signals to the muscles. In addition to twitching, this can also lead to leg cramps. A magnesium deficiency is often caused by eating unhealthy or unbalanced meals, but diarrhea and diets are other possible causes. What’s more, our bodies sometimes need more magnesium, such as during pregnancy or when doing regular exercise. Diabetes, chronic kidney diseases, celiac disease (gluten intolerance) and alcohol abuse can also lead to a magnesium deficiency. Your doctor can find out whether you have a magnesium deficiency with a simple blood test.
In rarer cases, twitching can be caused by infections, neurological disorders, multiple sclerosis or brain tumors. It can also be caused by foreign bodies in the eyes, conjunctivitis, or inflammation of the eye margin or small lesions on the cornea, which sometimes happen when you putt in your contact lenses incorrectly. If twitching occurs in conjunction with signs of paralysis and language or vision disorders, such as seeing double, you should go to the emergency room immediately as these could be early warning signs of a heart attack or stroke.
Use a washcloth soaked in hot water to ease acute symptoms. Place it on your eyelid for five to ten minutes; the heat will relax your muscles and the twitching will subside. A similar effect can be achieved using gel-filled glasses or masks. These can be purchased at a pharmacy or beauty and health retailer and can be used either hot or cold. Gently massaging the twitching eyelid can also ease symptoms. If the twitching is due to a magnesium deficiency, this can normally be fixed by eating foods that are rich in magnesium. These include peanuts and hazelnuts, spinach, sunflower seeds, millet, rice, beans, oatmeal and magnesium-enriched mineral water. Magnesium supplements can also quickly relieve acute twitching.
In general, as long as you don’t experience twitching frequently, you don’t need to worry about treating it. You only really need to go to the doctor if you suffer from twitching over several weeks, or if it gets worse. An eye doctor can determine whether or not a visual impairment might be causing the twitching. If left untreated, even a minor visual impairment can lead to overexertion of the eyes, which will lead to twitching. If there’s no evidence of a visual impairment, you should consult a neurologist to rule out causes like a brain tumor or nerve damage.
Twitching can be avoided in a number of ways – it all depends on what’s causing it. If stress, too much caffeine, an unhealthy diet or a lack of sleep are thought to be the cause, you can prevent recurrence by correcting these things. Relaxation techniques can help combat physical or mental stress. This can be done in a number of ways: through professional relaxation exercises, autogenic training, yoga, meditation, sports, getting more sleep, listening to calming music or taking a long walk. Massage can help, too – either on the affected part of the eye, on the head or on the back. If you spend a lot of time working at a computer and digital eye strain is the cause of your twitching, a special pair of computer glasses can help prevent it.