Eye Tic Causes in Kids | 9 Little-known Triggers
Do you have a child who has an eye that twitches uncontrollably?
In this article, we’ll explore the various eye tic causes and provide practical advice on how to diagnose and treat them so you can help your child find relief.
Here, we’ll discuss the lesser-known environmental and genetic factors that can trigger eye tics, and provide causes of eye twitches that your doctor might not be aware of.
By reading this article, you’ll be able to empower yourself to take action for your child’s health.
Let’s dive in.
What are Eye Tics (Twitches)?
Before we reveal the causes of eye tics, commonly referred to as eye twitches, let’s first begin by understanding what eye tics are.
Eye tics are involuntary spasms or movements of the eyelids or surrounding muscles. These tics can manifest as rapid blinking, squinting, or twitching of the eyes, and are generally harmless.
Eye tics can occur in children from toddlers to adolescents, and are a relatively common occurrence. In most cases, eye tics will resolve on their own over time and do not require any medical intervention. However, if your child’s eye tics persist or become disruptive to their daily life, it may be worth seeking the advice of a healthcare professional.
The Difference Between Eye Tics and Eye Twitches
The terms “eye tic” and “eye twitch” are often used interchangeably, but there is a subtle difference between the two.
Eye twitch refers to a minor and temporary spasm of the eyelid muscle, whereas an eye tic is a more persistent and repetitive involuntary movement of the eyelid or other muscles around the eye. Eye tics can last for weeks or even months and can be a sign of underlying conditions as we will discuss in this article.
Now that we know what eye tics are, let’s learn the two different clinical categories of eye tics.
Clinical Definitions of Eye Twitching
Eye twitching is a common condition categorized as myokymia or benign essential blepharospasm.
Myokymia is the most common clinical diagnosis for eye tics. Myokymia is a less severe and more common condition that causes involuntary twitching or fluttering of the eyelid muscles. This type of eye twitching can be caused by a range of factors including stress, fatigue, or caffeine consumption, and is usually temporary.
The less common clinical diagnosis for eye twitching is benign essential blepharospasm, a medical condition that causes involuntary contractions of the muscles around the eyes, leading to repeated blinking or spasms that can affect one or both eyes. This condition is usually seen in older adults and can progress over time, leading to difficulty in opening and closing the eyes. However, it is unlikely to occur in children.
The Common Eye Twitch Causes in Children
There are several common causes of eye twitches in children, including:
- Stress or anxiety can lead to tension in the muscles around the eyes and result in twitching.
- Fatigue or lack of sleep, as tiredness can make the muscles in the eyes more prone to involuntary movements.
- Caffeine or sugar intake, can stimulate the nervous system and cause twitching.
- Dry eyes can lead to irritation and twitching.
- Allergies can cause inflammation and twitching of the eyes.
- Bright lights or screen time, can strain the eyes and lead to twitching.
While stress, fatigue, and other common causes can certainly contribute to eye twitching in children, our focus in this blog post is aimed at revealing the lesser-known causes of eye tics in children that trigger long-term uncontrolled eye movements.
Without further ado, let’s discuss some of the lesser-known causes of eye tics in children.
The Lesser-known Eye Tic Causes in Children and Adolescents
If your child has been experiencing eye tics that do not seem to go away, there may be a variety of causes beyond the common triggers like stress, fatigue, or sugar intake.
We’ve compiled a table below that outlines the potential triggers and treatment options for each of these causes, so you can have a better understanding of what might be behind your child’s eye tics and how to approach treatment.
|1. PANDAS and PANS||PANDAS – Group A Strep |
PANS – Influenza, Epstein Barr Virus (EBV), SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19), Bartonella, Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV), Mycoplasma pneumonia, Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV), upper respiratory infections (bronchitis, pharyngitis, rhinitis), and Lyme disease.
|Antibiotics, Intravenous Immunoglobulin (IVIG) therapy, plasmapheresis, steroids|
|2. Tourette Syndrome||Genetic and environmental factors||Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, medication|
|3. Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)||Head injury or concussion||Rest, medication, therapy|
|4. Vitamin and Mineral Deficiencies||Nutrient-poor diet, malabsorption issues||Dietary changes, supplements|
|5. Medications||Side effects of certain medications||Consultation with a doctor to adjust medication|
|6. Brain Tumors||Abnormal growths in the brain||Surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy|
|7. Vision Problems|
Straining of the eyes, uncorrected vision
|Glasses, vision therapy, eye drops|
|8. Heavy Metal Poisoning||Exposure to toxic metals (e.g. lead, mercury)||Chelation therapy, detoxification|
|9. Environmental Mycotoxins||Exposure to mold or various mycotoxins||Testing to identify species, remove mold from the child’s environment|
While some of the triggers are easy to identify and treat, others require a more in-depth understanding of the underlying conditions that cause the tics. In this next section, we’ll take a closer look at each of these causes, exploring what they are, how they affect the body, and what treatment options are available.
PANDAS (Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Streptococcal infections) and PANS (Pediatric Acute-onset Neuropsychiatric Syndrome) are autoimmune conditions that occur in some children and adolescents after certain infections.
PANDAS symptoms appear after infection from a bacteria called Group A Streptococcus. Thus, children who recently recovered from a common strep infection in the throat, or inner ears, or less common (but more severe) strep infections such as Rheumatic fever or Scarlet fever can develop PANDAS. However, not every child that recovered from a strep infection develops PANDAS. Further PANDAS symptoms include:
- Obsessive-compulsive behavior
- Anxiety and/or emotional lability (e.g., sudden changes in mood or behavior)
- Behavioral regression (e.g., bed-wetting, separation anxiety)
- Sensory issues (e.g., sensitivity to light, sound, or touch)
- Motoric hyperactivity or hypoactivity (e.g., restlessness or lethargy)
- Age regression (behaviorally or academically)
In PANS, many different infectious agents, not just streptococcal, can trigger this syndrome (see table below).
Infectious Agents and Associated Diseases in PANS
|Epstein Barr Virus||Mononucleosis|
|Herpes Simplex Virus||Cold Sores, Herpes|
|Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV)||Bronchiolitis, Pneumonia|
|Bartonella||Cat Scratch Disease|
|Borelia burgdorferi (from tic bite)||Lyme Disease|
Like PANDAS, PANS is characterized as an autoimmune disorder in which the immune system mistakenly attacks the brain, resulting in various neuropsychiatric symptoms. Some of the general PANS symptoms include:
- Abrupt, dramatic onset of obsessive-compulsive behavior or severely restricted food intake
- Development of tics or choreiform (involuntary, irregular, and rapid movements that occur in a jerky, dancing-like manner) movements
- Development of acute-onset separation anxiety, panic attacks, or irrational fears
- Development of age-inappropriate behaviors, such as temper tantrums or frequent crying
- Sudden decline in school performance or cognitive abilities, including memory, information processing, or executive functioning
- Sensory or motor abnormalities, such as hyperactivity, poor coordination, or handwriting deterioration
If you believe your child might have PANDAS/PANS the first step is not to panic because you will not be alone in your PANDAS journey. PANDAS Network is a non-profit organization dedicated to helping parents and children find PANDAS resources and treatment options.
If you think your child might be suffering from eye tics related to PANDAS or PANS, join the PANDAS Network newsletter today and stay up-to-date on the latest research and treatment options for PANDAS/PANS.
2. Tourette’s Syndrome
Tourette’s syndrome is a neurological disorder that causes repetitive, involuntary movements, categorized as motor tics and vocal tics.
These tics can range from mild to severe, and they tend to begin in childhood. The exact cause of Tourette’s is unknown, but it is believed to be related to a combination of genetic and environmental factors.
In addition to eye tics, people with Tourette’s may also experience vocal tics such as throat clearing, grunting, or yelling out words. They may also have physical tics such as shoulder shrugging, head jerking, or facial grimacing. These tics can be disruptive and embarrassing, and they can interfere with the child’s daily life.
Treatment options may include medications such as neuroleptics or alpha-adrenergic agonists, behavioral therapy such as habit reversal training, and in some cases, deep brain stimulation (DBS) may be recommended. It is important to note that treatment is highly individualized and may depend on the severity of symptoms and other factors, and should be discussed with a qualified healthcare provider.
3. Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)
Traumatic brain injury (TBI) occurs when the brain is damaged by a sudden trauma or blow to the head. This can result from a fall, car accident, sports injury, or any other type of impact.
Symptoms of TBI can vary depending on the severity of the injury, but they may include headaches, dizziness, confusion, memory problems, and difficulty concentrating. In addition, some individuals may experience eye tics as a result of TBI.
While there is no cure for TBI, treatment options may include medication to manage symptoms, physical therapy to improve strength and coordination, and speech therapy to help with communication skills. In some cases, surgery may be necessary to repair the damage to the brain. It’s important to seek medical attention immediately after a head injury to prevent further damage and to address any potential complications such as eye tics.
4. Vitamin and Mineral Deficiencies
Vitamin and mineral deficiencies occur when the body lacks the necessary nutrients to function properly. Deficiencies can be caused by a poor diet or a health condition that affects nutrient absorption, such as celiac disease.
Symptoms of vitamin and mineral deficiency can vary depending on the nutrients involved, but common symptoms include fatigue, weakness, and muscle spasms, including eye tics.
A magnesium deficiency, for example, can lead to muscle twitching and spasms. Treatment for a deficiency often involves supplementation of the missing nutrient through dietary changes or supplements. It is important to consult a healthcare provider before starting any supplementation to ensure proper dosage and avoid potential interactions with other medications.
Certain medications have been known to cause eye tics in children. Stimulant medications used to treat attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are one example, as they can cause muscle twitching and spasms. These include, but are not limited to the following:
- Stimulants for ADHD: Ritalin, Adderall, Vyvanse, Concerta
- Antidepressants: Prozac, Zoloft, Paxil
- Antipsychotics: Abilify, Risperdal, Seroquel
- Anti-nausea medication: Reglan
These medications can alter the levels of neurotransmitters in the brain and affect the function of the nervous system, resulting in eye tics as a side effect. Treatment options depend on the individual case and should be discussed with a healthcare provider. In some cases, switching to a different medication or adjusting the dosage may be necessary to alleviate the tics.
6. Brain Tumors
A brain tumor is a mass of abnormal cells in the brain that can grow and compress the surrounding brain tissue. When a tumor is located in a certain area of the brain responsible for causing eye movements, it can press on nerves and cause abnormal movements, including causing eye tics. This can also lead to other symptoms such as headaches, seizures, and changes in behavior or personality.
Treatment options for brain tumors depend on the type, size, and location of the tumor. Surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy are common treatment options. However, reversing brain injury and tics caused by a brain tumor may not be possible in all cases, and ongoing management of symptoms may be necessary.
7. Vision Problems
Vision problems, such as farsightedness, nearsightedness, or astigmatism, can cause eye tics in children. When the eyes are not properly aligned, the brain may compensate by sending signals to the eye muscles to adjust, resulting in eye tics. Additionally, eye strain caused by poor vision can lead to eye twitching.
Treatment for eye tics related to vision problems typically involves correcting the underlying vision issue with eyeglasses, contact lenses, or vision therapy exercises to improve eye muscle control. In some cases, eye surgery may be necessary to correct eye alignment. It is important to have regular eye exams to detect any vision problems that may be contributing to eye tics.
8. Heavy Metal Poisoning
Heavy metal poisoning is a condition that occurs when there is an excessive amount of heavy metals in the body, such as lead, mercury, or arsenic. Exposure to these heavy metals can cause a variety of symptoms, including causing eye tics in children.
Heavy metal poisoning can occur from environmental exposure or ingesting contaminated food or water. When heavy metals accumulate in the body, they can interfere with normal brain and nervous system function, leading to involuntary movements like eye tics.
Treatment options for heavy metal poisoning may include chelation therapy, a process that removes heavy metals from the body using medication. It’s important to note that prevention is key when it comes to heavy metal poisoning, and efforts should be made to limit exposure to heavy metals in the first place.
9. Environmental Mycotoxins
Mycotoxins are toxic substances produced by certain species of molds. Exposure to mycotoxins can lead to various health problems, including neurologic symptoms such as motor and eye tics. When mycotoxins are inhaled or ingested, they can enter the bloodstream and cross the blood-brain barrier, where they can affect the central nervous system (CNS).
Mycotoxins can cause inflammation in the brain, disrupt neurotransmitter function, and lead to oxidative stress, which can result in motor and eye tics. Some species of mold, such as Stachybotrys chartarum, have been identified to produce harmful toxins that affect the CNS.
Treatment options for mycotoxin exposure include removal of the mold source, use of binders to eliminate mycotoxins from the body, and supportive therapies to address symptoms.
When To Visit a Doctor
If your child develops eye tics, consult with your child’s pediatrician or eye specialist if the tics are severe, persistent, or interfering with the child’s daily activities.
Parents should also seek medical attention if the tics are accompanied by other symptoms such as headaches, changes in vision, seizures, or behavioral changes. Never ignore tics that are combined with other symptoms or that occur after an infection.
While most cases of eye tics in children are harmless and resolve on their own, it is essential to rule out any underlying medical conditions that may be causing the tics. Early diagnosis and treatment of any underlying conditions can prevent potential complications and help manage the symptoms.
Parents need to know that there are many causes of eye tics in children, and solutions are available to help alleviate these tics. While some causes may require medical attention or treatment, others may simply require lifestyle changes or adjustments.
Parents should not hesitate to consult a healthcare professional if they have concerns about their child’s eye tics. Additionally, there are many resources available, including support groups, websites, and medical organizations, that provide information and support for parents of children with eye tics. With the right diagnosis and treatment, children with eye tics can live happy and healthy lives.