It’s a feeling so subtle, yet so annoying. You’re minding your own business when suddenly your eye starts twitching. While you probably just write it off as one of those things, there are actually a few reasons why eye twitching can crop up—and it doesn’t just happen to you.
“This is very common,” Mark Blecher, M.D., eye surgeon and codirector of Wills Eye Hospital Primary Eye Care, tells SELF. When it feels like your eye is twitching, it’s actually your eyelid muscle (known as the orbicularis oculi) that’s spasming, Dr. Blecher explains. “It can happen several times in a row and then stops, and for some people it can happen again later on that same day,” he says.
There’s actually a technical term for this—myokymia—and it happens due to misfiring of neurons in your eyelid muscle, JP Maszczak, O.D., assistant professor of clinical optometry at the Ohio State University College of Optometry, tells SELF. “This is typically a benign condition around one eye that most people will deal with on at least a few occasions throughout their lifetime,” he says.
Of course, eye twitching can strike at the worst moments and it’s probably not the look you’re going for on a regular basis. So then it’s understandable that you’d want to try to keep future eyelid spasms at bay. Here are the most common reasons for eye twitching, plus what you can do to lower your risk of developing it again.
1. You have an eyelid infection.
Eyelid inflammation, which often happens due to a condition called blepharitis, is a big cause of eye twitching, says Dr. Blecher. Blepharitis often happens when bacteria gets into your eyelids, causing inflammation and redness, which makes your muscles twitchy, he explains. If you’re suffering from blepharitis, he recommends taking a washcloth, wetting it with hot water, and holding it over your eye for a few minutes a few times a day. “That can go a long way toward making things better and stopping the twitching,” Dr. Blecher says.
2. You’re stressed out.
You’re up against a crazy work deadline and suddenly your eyelid starts acting weird. While super annoying, this is also totally normal. Stress causes a release of adrenergic chemicals like cortisol and adrenaline, triggering your body’s fight or flight response, John Hovanesian, M.D., an eye surgeon at Harvard Eye Associatesin Laguna Hills, California, tells SELF. “These can cause muscles to be more sensitive and irritable than usual,” he says. Unfortunately, any sort of stress, whether it’s chronic or sudden can cause your eyelid to spasm, says Dr. Blecher
3. You had too much caffeine or chocolate.
The caffeine in coffee and chocolate can cause hyperactivity of the nerves and muscles around the eyelid, leading to eyelid twitching. “I definitely see more benign eyelid twitching right after Valentine’s Day because someone ate too much chocolate,” says Amy Zimmerman, M.D., an ophthalmologist with Katzen Eye Group. Luckily, Dr. Zimmerman says the random twitching should go away once you cut back on your caffeine intake. Anything that stimulates your nervous system will predispose you to eye twitching, Dr. Blecher says, but it doesn’t happen in everyone. So if you know that you’re prone to getting a twitchy eye after you have too much caffeine, it’s best to watch how much you have in the future.
4. You’re super tired.
When you’re wiped out, your sympathetic nervous system, which controls a lot of your involuntary activities, kicks into high gear. And, as a result, your eyelid might start twitching. “For some reason it gets worse the more fatigued you are,” Dr. Zimmerman says. The easiest way to resolve it is by getting more sleep, she says, which may be easier said than done.
Most cases of eyelid twitching don’t need to be evaluated by a doctor, Dr. Maszczak says. But, if the spasming worsens and includes one side of your face or cause your eyelids to close involuntarily, you should call your eye doctor, he says—it could be a sign of a corneal abrasion, dry eyes, or a neurological condition. Most of the time, eye twitching will stop within one to two weeks, but if it’s severe and unrelenting, Botox injections may be helpful, Dr. Maszczak says.
If you experience random eyelid twitching, take a beat and think about what could be causing it. It could be your body’s way of telling you it’s time to de-stress, cut back on the caffeine, or call it an early night tonight—or all three.