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What is Blepharospasm?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 17 November 2016
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Blepharospasm is a condition which causes someone to blink uncontrollably. Patients may experience irritation and dry eye, especially bright or stressful conditions, and in some cases patients feel like their eyelids are sealed shut, causing functional blindness. As a general rule, blepharospasm is not harmful, but many people choose to seek treatment because it can be a nuisance, and it causes eye irritation. An ophthalmologist can usually provide treatment recommendations for patients who suffer from blepharospasm.

This condition is a form of dystonia, a family of muscle disorders characterized by strong and prolonged contractions. Often, blepharospasm is paired with a dystonia in another area of the body, and it is usually caused by damage to the brain from a stroke or another medical condition. When blepharospasm only affects half the face, it is known as hemifacial blepharospasm, and it is usually caused by damage to the facial nerves.

Usually a doctor diagnoses this condition with a physical examination and interview. During the interview, the patient will be asked how long he or she has noticed a problem, and how frequent the blepharospasm is. If you aren't sure, it can help to ask a friend or family member who may have noticed the condition before you did. The eye doctor may also ask about increased stress in your life, changed working conditions, or your history of head trauma, in an attempt to uncover the cause of the blepharospasm.

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Most cases of blepharospasm are diagnosed as Benign Essential Blepharospasm, and patients have several treatment options. They can choose to ignore the problem, using eyedrops to ease eye irritation if it becomes a problem. They can also opt for temporary paralysis of the facial nerve with the use of botulinum toxin. Some oral medications can be used to control the spasm, and in rare cases surgery may be used to sever the over-active nerve causing the spasm, although this is not always successful.

Blepharospasm is considered a chronic condition, and it usually gets worse over time if it is not addressed. Sometimes, the spasmodic winking and twitching can be greatly reduced by working on stress and living and working conditions. Using ergonomic lighting at work, for example, can cut down on eye strain, making blepharospasm less common, and using stress management techniques can also reduce the unwanted twitching.

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