Everything you need to know about Blepharospasm

We all know how annoying it is when our eyelid starts uncontrollably twitching for a few moments for no apparent reason, before suddenly stopping by itself. Unfortunately, though, for some people, this is an everyday occurrence.

Blepharospasm (also known as eye dystonia) is the medical term for this uncontrollable muscle spasm. Here we outline exactly what it is and how it can be medically treated.

What are the symptoms?

Blepharospasm usually develops without warning signs, starting with gradual increases in eye irritation or blinks. Other symptoms may include increased tiredness, sensitivity to bright lights and emotional pressure. Over time, these symptoms typically occur more often and become more severe and can seriously affect the sufferer’s vision.

In many people, the signs and symptoms associated with dry eye also occur before or at the same time, suggesting that this condition may trigger the arrival of blepharospasm. A further 30% of patients with blepharospasm will go on to experience involuntary movements in other facial muscles, including the tongue, neck and mouth.

The condition usually affects those aged between 50 and 70, though it is occasionally seen in younger people.

What causes blepharospasm?

Genetics certainly play a part in whether an individual will suffer from the condition and many patients will report a previous family history of blepharospasm. Moreover, research shows the primary cause of this medical issue is an abnormality in the nerves, which result in incorrect messages being sent from the basal ganglia in the brain to the muscles forming around the eyes.

The basal ganglia are situated at the brain’s base and its job is to control all coordinated movements of the muscles. As such, blepharospasm is a neurological movement disorder, meaning that a specialist ophthalmologist or neurologist should be referred to for diagnosis and treatment.

Treatment for blepharospasm

There is, unfortunately, no current cure for the condition, though many treatment options exist to reduce the severity of symptoms so that individuals can live happy, healthy lives. The most effective treatment option is through the injecting of botulinum neurotoxin, known to most as ‘Botox’.

The injections work to reduce severity of spasms by preventing nerve impulses which are transmitted from the nerve endings in muscles. Only small amounts of botox are applied to the affected areas around the eyes and these will vary from person to person, which means treatment is always individually tailored.

Botox treatment for blepharospasm is perfectly safe, with little to no associated risks. Many patients will report almost immediate relief from symptoms, giving them a vastly improved quality of life.

In some cases botox treatment is unsuccessful, or the body may become resistant to it after many years of successful usage. In these patients, oral medications may be prescribed to help ease symptoms. Blepharoplasty to remove excess skin and muscle around the upper eyelid may also be recommended where other treatment options are not working.

If you think you are suffering from blepharospasm and this is affecting your day-to-day life, then it’s a good idea to speak to your GP who can then refer you to an eye health specialist and recommend the best treatment solution based on your individual needs.