Sometimes it lasts only a few seconds, and sometimes it won't stop for several minutes, but if you've ever experienced an eye twitch, it's one of the weirdest, most annoying things that can happen to our bodies. We asked experts to explain the causes of these random eye twitches, also known as myokymia, and more importantly, what we can do to stop them.
What Causes Eye Twitching?
"Ever wonder if your eyes were trying to send you a Morse code message?" Nader Iskander, MD, a board certified ophthalmologist and fellowship-trained refractive surgeon, told POPSUGAR. He explained that eye twitches are simply the firing up of neurons that cause the muscles around the eye and eyelid to twitch.
Optometrist John Dreyer, BSc Hons, a member of the College of Optometrists, said the problem normally presents as a twitching sensation in one of the top outer eyelids, but can be present in any of the eye muscles. Dr. Iskander added, "Eye twitches can vary in duration spanning once a day, several times a day, or over a period of a few days."
A number of things can cause eye twitching, including:
- Eye strain
- Screen use or blue-light exposure
- Excess caffeine or alcohol
- Dry eyes
- Low calcium levels (rare)
How Can Eye Twitches Be Prevented or Relieved?
For the vast majority of causes, eye twitching goes away on its own and is not a reason for concern, explained Quinn Wang, MD, a UCSF-trained cataract surgeon. "Sometimes, however, it can take weeks for the twitching to resolve," she said, and added that many ways to prevent or reduce eye twitching revolve around lifestyle modifications. Try these:
- De-stress: If you're stressed due to work, relationships, or life in general, Dreyer said to use simple stress-relief techniques such as relaxation and massage to help relieve the stress and consequently reduce the eye twitching. Meditation, yoga, exercise, getting out in nature, doing something creative (like Zentangle), or laughing with a friend are also great stress relievers.
- Limit caffeine and alcohol: A decrease in or complete elimination of caffeine or alcohol as well as keeping hydrated with water can help with eye twitching, said Dr. Iskander.
- Improve your sleep hygiene: Lack of sleep is one of the main causes of eye twitching, so Ashley Katsikos, OD, FAAO, a dry eye specialist from Golden Gate Eye Associates, said to make sure you get adequate sleep.
- Check your computer workspace: You may find that a few minor changes in your surroundings can make a big difference in relieving eye strain, said Dr. Katsikos. "The optimal viewing distance between your eyes and a computer monitor should be 20 to 28 inches, she said. If this isn't possible, you may need to adjust your screen's font size. You can also modify the angle of your screen to reduce eye strain. Our screen should be 15 to 20 degrees, or about four to five inches below eye level, from the center of the screen, she explained.
- Wear blue light glasses: Dr. Katsikos explained, "Due to its short, high-energy wavelength, blue light creates a glare, which is one of the leading causes of eye strain. Prolonged exposure to blue light can cause retinal damage and result in age-related macular degeneration." She suggested wearing blue light glasses to help alleviate digital eye strain by blocking the blue portion of the UV spectrum.
- Follow the 30-30-30 rule: Reducing screen time can help, Dr. Iskander suggests, but if that's not possible because of your job, take regularly scheduled screen breaks. Dr. Katsikos explained, "On average, a person blinks 33 percent less when looking at digital screens of any kind. So I always tell my patients about the '30-30-30 rule:" every 30 minutes, take 30 seconds to look 30 feet out into the distance. You'll naturally blink more than you would when looking at the screen, which gives your eyes a chance to rehydrate and relax."
If that doesn't help, Dreyer said to take even more frequent breaks, and follow the 20-20-20 rule: "for every 20 minutes of screen time, focus on something at least 20 feet away, for at least 20 seconds. This will allow your eye muscles to move more normally and reduce strain," he said. He added that when you stare at a computer screen or anything close to your eyes for extended periods, you make your eyes focus on just one depth of vision rather than focusing on different points, which is a more normal activity for the eye."
- Get relief for dry eyes: If allergies are causing dry eyes, avoid your triggers as best you can. Sometimes it also helps to apply a warm compress or to use artificial tears to provide lubrication for your eyes, said Dr. Wang.
- Get your eyes checked: If you're not stressed in general, then the twitching could be due to eye stress, Dreyer said. He added, "This can occur when there's a change in your prescription needs, causing your eyes to work harder. If eye twitching continues more than a few seconds or occurs regularly, see an optometrist and have your eyes tested." They could also test you for more serious conditions such as blepharospasm (abnormal function of the part of the brain known as the basal ganglion) or hemifacial spasm (a neuromuscular disorder), said Dreyer.