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- Eye twitching, aka myokymia, is extremely common and usually not a cause for concern.
- Common causes include stress, computer vision syndrome, dry eye, and fatigue.
- You should see a doctor if twitching lasts more than a few weeks or it affects both eyes.
When you feel like your eye is twitching, it's usually one of your eyelids that's spasming.
This relatively harmless phenomenon, called myokymia, is extremely common and usually resolves on its own without treatment, says Roger E. Turbin, MD, assistant professor in the Institute of Ophthalmology and Visual Science at the Rutgers New Jersey Medical School.
However, you should see a doctor if your eyes start to look red, you become sensitive to light, or you experience facial weakness or drooping.
1. Nutrient deficiency
Poor nutrition or having insufficient levels of key nutrients may lead to eyelid twitching.
For instance, magnesium deficiency is said to cause myokymia, says Liza M. Cohen, MD, assistant professor of ophthalmology at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.
Other deficiencies that may cause eye twitching to watch for include:
- Having too much or too little calcium in the body
- Vitamin B12 deficiency
- Vitamin D deficiency
- Low phosphate
However, more research is needed to fully understand why these deficiencies can lead to eye twitching.
Of course, what nutrient insufficiency or deficiency you have will ultimately determine your symptoms, but in general, here are some common ones:
- Loss of appetite
- Muscle cramps
How to treat it: Consume a well-balanced diet of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, and legumes that are all rich in vitamins and minerals, says Cohen.
- Lack of sleep
- Lack of physical activity
- Excessive exercise
- Alcohol or drug use
- Medications like antihistamines or cough medicines
How to treat it: "Getting more sleep can relieve twitching," says Cohen. But that may be easier said than done.
If you've tried altering your lifestyle and are still struggling to get enough sleep, it may be time to schedule a doctor's appointment to determine if you have an underlying medical condition — like insomnia, thyroid issues, or anemia — that needs more tailored treatment.
3. Computer vision syndrome
Computer vision syndrome refers to the eye discomfort or vision problems you experience after looking at digital screens like computers, tablets, and smartphones for prolonged periods.
Prolonged computer use may lead to eye strain, says Cohen, which can trigger eyelid twitching.
How to treat it: If you're spending hours at a time staring at screens, it's important to take a break every 20 to 30 minutes and look into the distance, says Cohen.
The eye muscles work hardest when focusing on close objects, so looking at digital screens for prolonged periods may cause fatigue and strain on the eyes. Looking into the distance helps because the eye muscles get to take a break from focusing on close objects.
Occasionally looking at far objects in-between screen exposure is significantly associated with less frequent symptoms of computer vision syndrome.
To alleviate eye strain, you can try the popular 20-20-20 rule that recommends taking a 20-second break every 20 minutes to look at something from 20 feet away.
Being stressed may also trigger eyelid twitching.
"In my experience and in the literature, the occurrences [of eyelid twitching] are associated with periods of stress and worsened by a variety of environmental factors such as exposure to alcohol, excess caffeine, stimulants, etc.," says Turbin.
There are many causes of stress, such as:
- Starting a new job
- Getting laid off
- Having a baby
- Getting divorced
- Experiencing financial problems
How to treat it: Coping with stress can relieve twitching, says Cohen.
5. Dry eye
- Decreased tear production from aging
- Increased tear evaporation due to eye allergies
- Blinking less often, like when you're reading or driving
Dry eye can cause eye strain and increased blinking, says Cohen. This may lead to eye twitching.
In addition to twitching, symptoms of dry eye include:
- Eye redness
- Blurred vision
- Sensitivity to light
- Burning or scratchy sensation in the eyes
How to treat it: You can use artificial tears (aka over-the-counter eyedrops) to lubricate your eyes, says Cohen.
If left untreated, severe dry eye may lead to eye inflammation and damage to the cornea. In this case, prescription eyedrops may be recommended. Reach out to your healthcare provider if you've had prolonged symptoms of dry eye.
When to see a doctor
According to Cohen and Turbin, you should see a doctor when the eyelid twitching:
- Involves both eyes
- Is accompanied by spasms involving other muscles of the face
- Lasts more than a few weeks
- Get progressively worse over time
- Is accompanied by numbness, weakness, pain, or asymmetry in the face
- Comes with headache or loss of vision
It's important to confirm that the twitching is myokymia — a truly isolated eyelid problem — and not a symptom of a neurological condition, medication, or something else, says Turbin.
Here are some medical conditions where eyelid twitching may occur and you should schedule a doctor's appointment for more tailored treatment:
- Benign essential blepharospasm: The condition begins with increased or more frequent blinking. Both eyes close involuntarily much more frequently than normal, which can affect the ability to read and drive safely, says Cohen. It may eventually progress to spasms that make it difficult to keep the eyes open, forcing the eyelids to remain closed. In severe cases, sustained eye closure may last for several hours. About 20,000 to 50,000 people in the U.S. have benign essential blepharospasm.
- Meige syndrome: Meige syndrome is a nervous system disorder where you experience frequent, involuntary spasms of the muscles that move the eye, jaw, tongue, and lower face.
- Hemifacial spasm: "Hemifacial spasm is when the muscles on one side of the face contract involuntarily, including the eyelid," says Cohen. This nervous system disorder may affect either side of the face, but not both sides simultaneously.
- Infections: Certain infections like tetanus, botulism, or Lyme disease can cause involuntary contractions or sudden weakness in the facial muscles, says Turbin.
- Other brain and nervous system disorders: Bell's palsy, multiple sclerosis, and dystonia may also cause eyelid twitching, but it's often accompanied by other symptoms such as numbness in the face or a partial or complete loss of vision.
The exact cause of eyelid twitches isn't understood yet, but various factors such as fatigue, stress, and eye strain may trigger it.
That's why getting enough sleep, limiting caffeine, reducing stress, and taking breaks when you're at a screen all day are important for managing and ultimately treating myokymia.
Eyelid twitching tends to go away on its own, but if it's accompanied by other symptoms such as facial numbness, headache, or spasms involving other muscles of the face, you should see a doctor to have it checked out.