After a day of mainlining coffee and staring at the computer, “relaxing” at happy hour then staying up late glued to the television, getting in bed only to consume the infinite scroll of news and takes on your mobile instead of sleeping like you know you should, an eye twitch begins.
You go to sleep, thinking by the time you wake up the twitch will be gone. But it's not. It's there for days, maybe even weeks.
Twitch .... twitch twitch ............. TWITCH.
Americans are spending more and more time looking at screens, and it's not always fun or entertaining. It prevents us from hitting our bedtime goals. It fatigues our eye muscles. Hate-reading late-night Twitter is stressful, and one of the symptoms — however benign it may seem — could be an eye twitch. Shameema Sikder, an ophthalmologist at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, had a simple way of explaining what can cause eye twitching. “It's kind of like all the things your mom lectured you about growing up: lack of sleep, staring at screens, dry eyes, caffeine, dehydration, stress,” she said.
The exact biological reasons for the (probably) benign eye twitch remain a mystery. However, the muscle that begins to spasm is usually the orbicularis oculi, the delicate muscle fibers responsible for opening and closing the eyelid.
If a twitch happens, “something has misfired, involuntarily,” said Sikder, and stressing out about it — perhaps even writing an article about it — can make it worse. In some cases the twitch may visible to other people (no doctors consulted for this story recommended incessantly asking colleagues if they can see your eye twitching and, for the record, they cannot, so please stop asking).
Sikder has recommendations beyond the obvious (take care of yourself). She recommends looking away from the screen every 20 minutes and closing your eyes. This can help hydrate your eyes. Artificial tears can also help. In extreme cases of prolonged and severe eye twitching — something this reporter is definitely not experiencing at this very moment — some patients have opted for a Botox injection to the eyelid. Sikder says Botox, which disrupts communication between nerves and muscles, has an extremely high success rate for arresting a persistent twitch.
Rudrani Banik, an ophthalmologist at Mount Sinai School of Medicine studied the benign eyelid twitch by following 15 patients over many years. The average length of time reported for the twitch was seven years. The study defined eye twitches, or chronic myokymia, as “fine, continuous, undulating contractions” across the muscle. None of Banik's patients progressed to a neurological condition during the study, however, in rare cases, an eye twitch can be a sign of a larger issues, depending on how it occurs.
Pay attention to frequency, duration and pattern said Sidker, as changes can be signs that it is has become more serious. If other facial muscles start to get in on the twitch or real pain is associated with the twitch, then it's time to see a doctor. Eye twitches with those associated symptoms can be signs of damaged nerve fibers or a brain stem disease.
To relax an eye twitch, doctors recommended a recipe for a healthy life: get enough sleep, drink less coffee, go easy at happy hour, take breaks from screens and the endlessly unfolding national dramas. Avoid writing an entire blog post about them.
“It’s annoying,” Banik said of eye twitches, but “if [patients] can tolerate it, it’s best that they just wait it out, and it will go away.”