Why Does Your Eyelid Twitch? Seeing Past Common African Beliefs


By: Toba Ajayi. DLHA Volunteer and Freelance writer with medical review and editorial support by the DLHA Team


Eye twitching

Photo by Muhammad-taha Ibrahim



Key Highlights

  • Eyelid twitching is an abnormal blinking of the eye, and it is involuntary.
  • The exact cause of eyelid twitching is not known; however, a wide range of factors can trigger it, and it can be a sign of an underlying brain and nerve disorder. 
  • Eyelid twitch may sometimes run in the family, which is more common in women than men.
  • There are several treatment options, and your eye doctor is in the best position to advise treatment






Experiencing an eye twitch from an African viewpoint is a bad omen that signals a disaster is bound to happen. On the contrary, more accurate medical explanations exist for this widely-believed African superstition.


Between 20,000 and 50 000 people experience a particular type of eye spasm in the U.S. This is twice as common in women than in men.

Although eye twitching is a rare condition, many Africans experience it., but the exact burden is unknown. 


Eyelid twitching, or myokymia, is the continuous involuntary blinking of the skin that covers your eye.

Most people experience mild spasms that go away on their own, but having this for a prolonged period can indicate a severe underlying medical condition.


In this piece, you’ll learn all you need to know about eye twitching and how to manage the condition better. Read on to find out an eye doctor’s take on this topic. 



Why Does Your Eyelid Twitch? The Myth vs. Science


Eyelid twitching comes in several forms and at different intervals. Sometimes only the upper lid twitches. In other cases, both lids can contract, forcing the eyes to close. Episodes of myokymia are unpredictable and usually stop on their own within some seconds.


According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, the exact cause of eyelid twitching is unknown, but many factors can trigger an episode.


First, let’s delve into what doesn’t cause eye spasms as we debunk the generally known myths about this condition.


  • The Myths

There are several superstitions in Africa regarding why your eyelid twitch, especially among Nigerians and Cameroonians.


In Nigeria, the common belief is that a twitch in the left eye indicates bad luck and that a sad event is bound to happen.


On the other hand, the Cameroonians believe that a left eye twitch means that an occurrence will happen, leading to tears. While a twitch on the right eye means someone will pay you an unexpected visit.


Although these are common beliefs, the medical explanations for why you experience eye spasms are different.


  • The Science/Medical Explanations

Eyelid twitching can result from a wide range of factors and can be made worse by these. 


Dr. Emekalam Vincent-de-paul, a registered Optometrist in Abeokuta, Ogun State, Nigeria, explains, “The general or broader term for eye twitching is Blepharospasm which encompasses all eyelid twitching that is caused by pathology, i.e., diseases and other environmental factors. On the other hand, Myokymia refers to eye twitching that is not caused by pathology.”


He says spasms can occur due to environmental factors, lifestyle choices, and other underlying health issues. 


  • Environmental Factors

Certain environmental components can cause twitching in the eye. These factors include irritants from wind, water, and air. The intensity of the sun rays entering your eyes can also account for eye twitching. Asides, it can also occur due to a scratch in the cornea.


  • Lifestyle Factors

Lifestyle choices regarding our food and physical state can trigger eyelid twitching. Ocular myokymia, a common form of eyelid spasm, occurs due to:

  • Exhaustion
  • Stress
  • Insufficient or disrupted sleep patterns
  • Excessive caffeine consumption
  • Excessive alcohol consumption


  • Health Factors

Some medical conditions are responsible for eye spasms. Getting prolonged and regular episodes of eye twitching might signify severe brain and nerve disorders such as:

  • Parkinson's Disease: a neurological condition that leads to poor muscle control and coordination difficulties
  • Meige syndrome: a rare brain and nerve disorder that causes involuntary jerking of the jaw, tongue, and eye muscles,
  • Multiple sclerosis: an autoimmune disorder that affects the brain and spinal cord, causing muscle weakness and loss of balance.
  • Bell’s palsy: a rare condition that paralyses the face or weakens the facial muscles temporarily.
  • Tourette syndrome: a neurological condition that causes involuntary sounds and repetitive movements such as blinking.
  • Dry eyes: a condition where the eyes do not secrete enough quality tears to lubricate and nourish the eyes



Who Can Experience Eye Twitching? 


Anyone can experience eye twitch, ranging from young to old, although it is more common in people between 50 and 70. It also runs in the family, so you have a greater chance of experiencing it if someone in your family has a history of eye spasms. 


People with severe brain injuries or chronic brain disorders will likely experience it.





A family physician or an ophthalmologist can diagnose eye spasms. During your consultation, you should be open to sharing specific details about your symptoms. You might need to provide information such as:

  • The time your spasm began
  • How long they last 
  • The frequency of your experience 


The physician will ask about your medical history. So, you should readily discuss any health condition you have, or that runs in your family.

Tell the physician if your family member has Parkinson's disease, Tourette syndrome, Multiple sclerosis, or stroke.

After taking your medical history, you might require a physical examination.

The healthcare provider may induce a blink to determine the frequency of your blinks.

In rare cases, your physician may order an MRI or CT scan to rule out any underlying cause of this spasm.


“Patients will be required to give details about their medical history, that of their family, or any drug they’re currently on. Also, questions about their daily life, ranging from occupation to environment and dietary habits. All these help to differentiate between pathological causes and other causes.” Dr. Emekalam says.





You might not require serious medication for your eye spasms, especially when they occur less frequently and stop independently.

Still, If you experience severe twitching, you should make a few lifestyle changes to help relieve these symptoms.

These changes can include:

  • Cutting out on alcohol, coffee, or any caffeinated drink or reducing your intake
  • Reducing stress and level of physical activities
  • Getting longer hours of uninterrupted sleep
  • Reducing exposure to bright light 


When discussing treatment options for this condition, Dr. Emekalam explains thus, "For pathological causes, the treatment goal is to reduce the symptoms. In other conditions, the solution is to try eliminating factors like caffeine and alcohol intake, stress, and changing medication. Reduce screen time, and protect your eyes from intense sunlight.” 


You might also need to temporarily stop any eye medication you take with or without a prescription. Always remember to check the expiry dates on your eye medications and avoid using an expired eye care product.


Your physician may recommend an antibiotic eye drop to help relieve any inflammatory eye symptoms. They could also suggest taking Botulinum toxin (botox) injections, which are effective for relieving spasms because they inhibit the contraction of an injected muscle.


If you experience a severe case of eye twitching, your physician may advise myectomy, a surgical procedure in which they remove some of the muscles and nerves of your eyelids. Research claims it is more effective for treating eye spasms than Botox injections. 



When to See a Doctor


Usually, eye spasms are not that serious, and they stop without intervention. However, you should check in with your doctor if you experience episodes of eye twitching that:

  • Lasts for more than two weeks
  • Occurs in several sites
  • Presents with a discharge or vision loss


If you also suspect that your eye twitching results from a reaction to any medication you’ve taken, don’t hesitate to contact your doctor.





Most cases of eye twitching last for a week and stop voluntarily. Still, if you experience severe spasms, the best way to manage this condition effectively is to abide with your doctor's treatment plan. 





Although there are several false assumptions within African communiies about why the eyelid twitches, the science behind it is precise. It results from overstressing muscles or nerves in the eye, and many factors can trigger this. Episodes of eye spasms can range from mild to severe.


There are several treatment options for this condition, and your healthcare provider is in the best place to advise one. Experiencing an eye spasm is not a serious concern, but consult your physician immediately if it persists.




1. Jafer Chardoub AA., Patel BC. (2023). Eyelid myokymia. StatPearls. Last updated, April 3, 2023. Accessed June 26, 2023. 

2. Khooshnoodi MA., Factor SA., Jinnah HA. (2013). Secondary blepharospasm associated with structural lesions of the brain. Journal Of The Neurological Sciences, 331(0), 98-101.

3. Eshraghi B., Shadravan M., Aalami E., Pour EK. Orbicularis oculi myectomy as a treatment for blepharospasm in a case of Schwartz jampel syndrome. (2016) Journal of Ophthalmic and Vision Research, 11(3), 329-332.

4. Hammer M., Abravanel A., Peckham E., et al. (2019). Blepharospasm: a genetic screening study in 132 patients. Journal of Parkinsonism and Related Disorders, 64, 315-318.




Published: June 30, 2023

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