Facial tics are sudden spasms of the muscles that control the mouth, eyes, nose, or cheeks. Tics are common in many major neurological disorders, such as Tourette’s syndrome, although they can also occur in the absence of a clear neurological trigger. Sporadic facial tics are much more common in children than adults, and most people simply stop having them by adolescence or early adulthood. Treatment is usually not necessary, although serious or persistent problems may require daily medication.

A person can experience facial tics for a variety of reasons. Doctors generally consider the condition idiopathic when there is no neurological problem, meaning the cause is unknown. Some medical research studies suggest that nutritional and genetic deficiencies may play a role in the development of idiopathic tics. It is well documented that tics tend to be more frequent and more noticeable in stressful and anxiety-provoking situations.

The main finding of studies of facial tics is that the patient cannot predict or control the spasms. A person may experience frequent bouts of mouth twitching or blinking on one or both sides of the face. Some tics seem to affect many muscles in the face at once, causing the person to grimace and squint.

Tics do not usually cause physical pain, but constant shaking can cause psychological damage in children or adults. A person may be self-conscious about their condition, which can significantly affect social interaction and self-esteem. In fact, the anxiety produced by worrying about facial tics can lead to an increase in the frequency of spasms, perpetuating both physical symptoms and mental anguish.

A child with facial tics should be examined by a pediatric neurologist to check for underlying problems. The doctor may administer MRI scans to look for lesions or other physical abnormalities in the brain. An EEG may be done to check for seizure disorders. Treatment strategies or symptom management may be considered after the doctor has made an accurate diagnosis.

Idiopathic facial tics usually do not require medical treatment. A doctor can advise on stress management and encourage parents to explain to their children that the condition is not dangerous and is almost certainly temporary. Prescription muscle relaxant medications may be prescribed to help children who have frequent disabling tics. Patients who show signs of neurological problems may need to be given antipsychotic or anticonvulsant drug regimens.