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What are Facial Tics?

By D. Jeffress
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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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.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By SarahSon — On Jun 12, 2011

It is amazing what kind of physical symptoms we can show from stress. Stress affects us both on the inside and can show up on the outside in the form of facial tics in adults and kids.

I work at a daycare and had a child that had frequent facial tics. I realized this was something she had no control over, but wondered what caused the symptoms. When I found out there was a lot of stress going on in her family, it made sense that stress could have been playing a big part in her tics.

By andee — On Jun 10, 2011

I know that stress can play a part in experiencing facial tics. There have been several times when I am under a lot of stress, that I notice one of my eyes twitching. This can be frustrating because it is something you have not control over.

You don't know when it will happen, and have no way of stopping it. It seems like the harder you try to stop the eye tics, the more frequent they become. Once I stop thinking about it so much and am not under such stress, they just stop happening.

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