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Eye twitching: Alarming or harmless?

The internet has made it possible for people to research their symptoms and decide, after a self-diagnosis, whether seeing a medical professional is necessary. While this can sometimes bring peace of mind without a copay, it also leads many people to link one minor symptom to a major, life-threatening condition.

A perfect example of this is the idea that an eye twitch is a sign of a brain tumor.

Before panic sets in, understand that eye twitching, on its own, very rarely points to a tumor in your brain. It's far more likely that you’re under stress and need a good night’s sleep.

Read on to learn what causes an eye twitch, what conditions an eye twitch could be a sign of, and when to seek medical help.

Why do our eyes twitch?

Eye twitching — although annoying — is a painless, benign muscle spasm in the eyelid. It occurs when tiny muscles in the lid contract spontaneously. These spasms can affect your upper or lower eyelid and usually resolve on their own within a few minutes or hours.

There are many common, innocent causes behind an eye twitching. These include:

  • Exhaustion

  • Stress

  • Caffeine

  • Eye strain or irritation

  • Dehydration

  • Certain medications

  • Alcohol

  • Allergies

  • Dry eyes

If you experience eye twitching often, you may be able to reduce the frequency and duration of your symptoms by finding and addressing the root cause.

SEE RELATED: Infographic: How to make that eye twitch go away

Eye twitching and brain tumors

Sometimes eye twitching lasts a little longer than expected — up to several days or weeks. If this happens, you may begin to panic and convince yourself that your eye twitching is a sign of a brain tumor.

Rest assured: If an eye twitch is the only symptom you’re experiencing, it is likely not linked to a brain tumor or other severe disorder. In most cases, it can probably be attributed to one of the culprits listed above.

Typically, signs and symptoms of a brain tumor include severe headaches, confusion, blurred vision, dizziness and, in some cases, seizures. In rare and unfortunate circumstances, brain tumors don’t show any symptoms, which makes it difficult for the person with the tumor to know something is wrong and have it checked out.

If you’re experiencing signs and/or symptoms of a brain tumor in addition to a persistent eye twitch, seek medical attention immediately.

What your eye twitch could mean

For most people, an eye twitch probably just means you should relax, get more sleep and lay off the caffeine or alcohol. However, there are a few more worrisome conclusions that a persistent eye twitch could point to.

If an eye twitch progresses to involuntary eye blinking, it is likely blepharospasm. This is a neurological disorder where the brain sends an uncontrolled signal to the eyes and results in excessive blinking. While blepharospasm isn’t dangerous, it’s wise to see an eye doctor to confirm the diagnosis and determine a cause.

If the “twitching” you experience is involuntary movements of the eye itself rather than the eyelid, you may have nystagmus. Nystagmus is characterized by uncontrolled repetitive eye movements that can appear as the eyes twitching back and forth.

Eye twitching can also be caused by a vestibular (inner ear) abnormality or a neurological issue — such as multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, Bell's palsy or Tourette syndrome — and should be examined by a specialist to establish the best course of treatment.

If you or someone you’re with has an eye twitch accompanied by sudden dizziness, trouble seeing, headache, confusion and weakness (especially when weakness is only on one side of the body), you need to seek immediate medical attention. These are symptoms of a stroke and can be debilitating and life-threatening if proper care isn’t sought quickly.

While an eye twitch rarely means a brain tumor is involved, it's important to see an eye doctor for evaluation — and possible solutions — if you experience prolonged lid twitching.

READ MORE: Nystagmus vs. strabismus

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