Facial tics are sudden spasms of the muscles that control the mouth, eyes, nose, or cheeks. Tics are prevalent with many larger neurological disorders, such as Tourette syndrome, though they may also occur in absence of a clear neurological trigger. Sporadic facial tics are much more common in children than in adults and most people simply stop having them by their teenage years or in early adulthood. Treatment is usually not needed, though severe or persistent problems may require daily medications.
A person may experience facial tics for a variety of reasons. Doctors usually deem the condition idiopathic when a neurological problem is not present, meaning that the cause is unknown. Some medical research studies suggest that nutrient deficiencies and genetics may play important roles in the development of idiopathic tics. It is well documented that tics are likely to become more frequent and noticeable in stressful, anxiety-inducing situations.
The primary finding of facial tic studies is that spasms cannot be predicted or controlled by the patient. A person may experience frequent bouts of mouth twitching or eye blinking on one or both sides of the face. Some tics appear to affect many muscles of the face at once, causing a person to grimace and squint.
Tics do not usually cause physical pain, but constant twitching may result in psychological damage in children or adults. A person may become self-conscious about his or her condition, which can significantly impact social interaction and self-esteem. In fact, the anxiety produced by worrying about facial tics can lead to increased frequency of spasms, perpetuating both physical symptoms and mental anguish.
A child who experiences facial tics should be examined by a pediatric neurological specialist to check for underlying problems. The doctor can administer magnetic resonance imaging tests to look for lesions or other physical abnormalities on the brain. An electroencephalogram may be performed to screen for seizure disorders. Treatment or symptom management strategies can be considered after the doctor makes an accurate diagnosis.
Idiopathic facial tics usually do not require medical treatment. A doctor may be able to provide tips about stress management and encourage parents to explain to their child that the condition is not dangerous and almost certainly temporary. Prescription muscle relaxing drugs may be prescribed to help children who experience frequent, disabling tics. Patients who show signs of neurological problems may need to be placed on anti-psychotic or anti-seizure medication regimens.