There you are, minding your own business, when your eye starts to spasm out of control. It’s a very annoying feeling which can persist for hours. But is there any cause for alarm? Trinidadians have quite a rich collection of superstitions concerning jumping eyes. For instance, if your right eye jumps, you are going to hear good news, and if your left eye jumps, you are going to hear bad news. Superstitions aside, the short answer is that a twitching eye is totally fine, although in some exceptional cases it may underlie a neurological condition.
Eye spasms are also called eyelid spasm or eyelid tics. Myokymia, as doctors call it, is characterized by the spontaneous, fine fascicular contractions of muscle without muscular atrophy or weakness. You might have experienced an involuntary muscle spasm in your knee or elbow. The same can happen to the orbicularis oculi muscle (the muscle in the face that closes the eyelids).
Eye spams are typically unilateral, occurring in one of the lower eyelids. Sometimes, both eyelids may be involved but the fascicular contractions of each eyelid is independent of each other. The transient and intermittent twitching is semi-rhythmic at a rate of 3-8 Hz.
In the majority of cases, eyelid spasms are no cause for concern. These are usually self-limiting and benign, so medical intervention is typically unnecessary. Very rarely, eyelid myokymia may occur as a precursor of hemifacial spasm, blepharospasm, Meige syndrome, spastic-paretic facial contracture, and multiple sclerosis.
Here are some of the most common reasons why your eye might be twitching.
This is the number-one reason for a twitching eye, according to ophthalmologists. When we’re under a lot of pressure, the body releases stress hormones (cortisol) which triggers a “fight or flight” response. One immediate consequence is muscle arousal, which may affect eyelid muscles as well. This may be a good time to see your friends, unwind, or meditate in order to reduce the stress that might be causing the twitching eye.
Not getting enough sleep or working too much overtime may cause your eye to complain. Scientists aren’t sure why, but they’ve found that getting more rest will make the symptoms subside.
If you’re chronically tired and have eye twitches — this is probably the first thing you should check out.
More and more people work office jobs that involve a lot of sitting and staring at a computer screen. This sort of lifestyle can lead to dry eye syndrome (DES), also known as keratoconjunctivitis sicca (KCS). Dry eye syndrome is caused by a chronic lack of sufficient lubrication and moisture on the surface of the eye. When our eyes are too dry, they might involuntarily start twitching to keep them moisturized. This repeated blinking can trick the brain into making one or both eyes twitch even more. To avoid DES, use eye drops if you use the computer for more than seven hours a day and make sure to look away from the screen at least once every 20 minutes. Learn more about the 20:20:20 rule to avoid eye strain.
Caffeine and alcohol
Caffeine and alcohol have seemingly polar effects on the body. One is a stimulant while the other is an inhibitor — but both can bring a twitching eye when used in excess. It’s important to stay hydrated and to avoid real or artificial sugars when this happens.
While there is some contradiction in the scientific literature about caffeine, it’s pretty clear that alcohol isn’t really good for you. Eye twitching is only one of the many health issues potentially caused by alcohol.
A jumping eye might be triggered by magnesium deficiency. If the twitch persists, it’s a good idea to get your magnesium levels checked with a simple blood test. If you really are magnesium deficient, you should focus on eating more foods like almonds, oatmeal, or spinach. You can also take magnesium supplements to meet daily Mg needs. Overall, less than 30% of U.S. adults consume the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) of magnesium. And nearly 20% get only half of the magnesium they need daily to remain healthy.
Blepharitis occurs when bacteria infect your eyelids, causing inflammation and redness. This makes the muscles around the eye twitchy. Other symptoms include burning or stinging eyes, dandruff at the base of the eye, and grittiness. The treatment of blepharitis should begin with a visit with your eye doctor to determine the cause of your sore, red, itchy eyelids. Eyelid hygiene is very helpful to treat and control blepharitis, and a good place to begin is applying a wet a clean, warm compress to melt any blocked residue around the eyelid. Repeat this several times a day.
Tibi is a science journalist and co-founder of ZME Science. He writes mainly about emerging tech, physics, climate, and space. In his spare time, Tibi likes to make weird music on his computer and groom felines.