A facial tic is an involuntary, uncontrolled spasm in the facial muscles. The tic is unwanted and generally occurs regularly enough to be a nuisance to the person who experiences it.
A person can hold in a tic temporarily, in a similar way to holding in a sneeze, but doing so often makes the person increasingly uncomfortable.
A few different disorders can cause facial tics, but most of the time facial tics do not indicate a severe medical condition.
According to a report in Pediatric Neurology, facial tics occur more commonly in children than adults, and boys seem to be much more likely to experience facial tics than girls. Most children's facial tics fade after a few months.
Facial tics are involuntary muscle movements that can happen anywhere in the face. However, they usually occur in the same place each time and happen frequently enough to bother the person. Severe tics can affect a person's quality of life.
Common types of facial tics include:
- rapid eye blinking or winking
- flaring the nostrils
- clicking the tongue
- sucking the teeth
- raising the eyebrows
- opening and closing the mouth
- scrunching the nose
- mouth twitching
As well as these muscular tics, some people may also experience vocal tics, such as clearing the throat or grunting.
A person may suppress a tic temporarily, but it will come out eventually.
Different types of disorders can cause facial tics. The severity of the tic, as well as the presence of other symptoms, can often help a doctor identify the underlying condition.
Transient tic disorder
Transient tics are temporary. Transient tic disorder may cause a regular facial or vocal tic, but the tic typically lasts for under a year.
Transient tic disorder usually only causes tics while a person is awake. People rarely have tics while they are sleeping.
Transient tic disorder is responsible for the majority of causes of tics in children. They usually resolve without any treatment.
Chronic motor tic disorder
Chronic motor tic disorder is a more persistent tic disorder. For a doctor to diagnose a person with chronic motor tic disorder, they must have experienced tics for over a year, for periods of at least 3 months at a time.
Unlike transient tic disorder, chronic motor tic disorder causes tics that can also occur during sleep.
Chronic motor tic disorder can occur in both children and adults. Young children who have chronic motor tic disorder may not need treatment, as symptoms may be more manageable or subside on their own over time.
Adults who have the disorder may need medication or other treatment to control the tics.
Tourette's syndrome, often shortened to Tourette's, is a chronic condition that causes one or more motor or vocal tics.
Most people who have Tourette's syndrome develop it during childhood, but the disorder can continue into adulthood. Tics usually become less severe as the person ages.
People with Tourette's syndrome have both motor and verbal tics. They may make sounds or say words involuntarily.
Some people with Tourette's syndrome have only small motor tics, such as rapid blinking or throat clearing. However, they may also have more involved motor tics, such as:
- shrugging one or both shoulders
- shaking the head uncontrollably
- flapping the arms
- saying inappropriate words
- making inappropriate gestures
- yelling out
People can often manage symptoms of Tourette's syndrome by having behavioral therapy. However, people who have any additional underlying conditions may need medication.
Treatment for facial tics can vary depending on the type and severity of the tic. Many tics, such as those caused by transient tic disorder, may go away without treatment over time.
Tics that interfere with performance in school or at work may require treatment. Long-lasting, chronic tics, such as those caused by Tourette's syndrome, may need more extensive treatment.
Treatment for tics may include:
Medication for tics include classes of drugs called alpha-adrenergic agonists, neuroleptic drugs, and dopamine blockers.
In cases of persistent facial twitches or tics, doctors may recommend Botox injections. Botox injections can paralyze the facial muscles for a few months, which may be enough to stop a tic from coming back.
Medications can also help treat any underlying conditions causing the tic, such as Tourette's syndrome or ADHD.
Doctors may recommend a person has regular sessions with a psychotherapist who can help the person find ways to change or eliminate the tics.
Behavioral modification and habit reversal techniques may help some people get over their tics and improve their quality of life.
The process typically involves teaching the person to identify when the tic is about to happen. Once a person can do this, the therapist will then encourage them to try to replace the tic with a different behavior.
Over time, this may help replace the physical habit with one that is less distracting or does not affect a person's daily functioning.
Some surgical methods may help in severe cases of facial tics, such as those caused by Tourette's syndrome.
One surgical therapy is called deep brain stimulation. Some scientists believe that by implanting electrodes in the brain, electrical currents can reach specific sections of the brain, which may help regulate brain waves and reduce tics.
A recent study found that deep brain stimulation may help relieve symptoms of Tourette's syndrome, but more research is still required to pinpoint the best areas of the brain to stimulate.
Doctors may also recommend natural treatments for facial tics. Stress is believed to play a role in the development and persistence of tics, so natural remedies will involve reducing stress in the person's life.
Stress-relieving activities include:
- light exercises
- imaginative play
Getting a full night's rest is also crucial for people looking to reduce stress and find relief. Sometimes, a doctor may recommend counseling.
Often, facial tics are transient and will go away on their own. A person should see a doctor if they experience any tic that lasts longer than a year.
Anyone who experiences tics that are severe, persistent, or affect many different muscle groups should contact their doctor for a proper diagnosis.
It is not always possible to prevent facial tics, but many do not require treatment and subside on their own.
Treatments that can help people manage the tic are available for persistent tics. Learning stress relief techniques and seeing a therapist may also help some people.