Blepharospasm causes involuntary contractions of the muscles of the eyelids. The disorder can also lead to uncontrollable blinking and in some cases sufferers may be unable to open their eyes, which reduces their ability to carry out everyday activities. Learn more about the condition, its diagnosis and the different treatment options available.
Blepharospasm is the second most common form of focal (or localized) dystonia in adults. It causes uncontrollable spasms in the eyelid muscles and closure of the eyelids. These muscular spasms can become virtually constant and patients may even feel they are effectively blind, even though there is no damage to their eyes. Even if blepharospasm is only one side of the face, both eyelids are often affected at the same time.
Symptoms and impact on health
Blepharospasm usually develops gradually. Involuntary closure of the eyes generally starts with excessive blinking. People with blepharospasm usually find that symptoms worsen when visual activity is intense (reading, working with a screen, or driving). After a few weeks, the spasms progress and can cause the eyelids to close completely for periods from a few seconds to several minutes. Blepharospasm can even lead to functional blindness, causing a major handicap for patients.
The disease can also be associated with contractions of the muscles in the lower part of the face and jaw (Meige syndrome), leading to grimacing when patients try to open their eyes.
The frequency of the muscle spasms can vary at different times of the day. Patients may have no symptoms when they wake in the morning but find they worsen in the afternoon. Some stressors can intensify the symptoms of blepharospasm:
- exposure to bright light,
- watching television,
- stress or tiredness.
Special glasses and rest can help to alleviate the symptoms.
As the causes of blepharospasm and of Meige syndrome remain unknown, the condition is called essential or idiopathic blepharospasm. Nonetheless a higher risk of developing this disease has been identified in people who are extremely sensitive to light, have dry eyes, or who are taking certain types of medication, such as those used in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease and drugs in the benzodiazepine family.
Blepharospasm is a rare disease that affects approximately 36 per million population in Europe. However, this figure is almost certainly an underestimate due to the difficulty in diagnosing the condition. Blepharospasm usually develops between the ages of 50 and 60, and is more prevalent in women (three women for every two men on average).
A rare disease
Age 50 to 60
Onset of the disease
are more likely to be affected than men