I had a woman* in my clinic recently who had a bad case of chronic eye twitches. Not that anyone could see them, but they were driving her nuts. In most cases eye twitches, or tics, are fairly short lived, lasting less than a day (and often only for seconds), but this woman had been twitching in one eye or the other for over a month. She said that her face had become almost hyper sensitive, and any frown, sneeze, or nose-blowing set off a new round of tics.
In Chinese medicine, eye tics are considered to be a pathogen (something that makes you sick) called wind. Many of the concepts of Chinese medicine are based on the natural world, and what makes you sick is no exception. Pathogens are a little bit like bad weather in your body. When you have a fever or inflammation, you have heat; when your arthritis flares up during the cold weather, you have a cold pathogen; and when you retain lots of water, you have dampness. (This is a very simplified explanation.)
Wind is considered movement where there should be stillness, and as a pathogen, wind is dry, light and active. It tends to be Yang in nature in that it’s slightly warm, and it generally moves upward and outward. In most cases, the symptoms of wind affect the upper part of your body, such as the eye tics this woman was experiencing.
There are actually two kinds of wind—internal and external. External wind is the pathogen behind conditions such as colds, flu, allergies, and viral infections. However, it’s internal wind that’s the problem with tics and dizziness. Internal wind tends to affect your body on a deeper level. It’s frequently associated with a malfunction of your Liver system to control the smooth flow of energy in your body, and can cause symptoms associated with movement—vertigo, tremors, twitches, and seizures. Wind is usually the culprit behind illnesses such as Meniere’s and Parkinson’s.
While frequently related to a Liver system malfunction, internal wind can also be caused by systemic dryness or malnourishment. Much like a dry tree, the brittle leaves at the top rattle in the wind.
Internal wind conditions are most frequently caused by a depletion, or a weakness of some kind in your body. As a result, treating it entails building up the depleted substance(s), such as Yin, Blood, or Qi (energy), which would ideally relieve the symptoms of wind. In some cases, extreme emotions such as anger or severe stress can also bring on wind-type symptoms. Treating the symptoms associated with wind is done through the use of some combination of acupuncture, Chinese herbs, choosing the right foods, and getting adequate rest.
In the case of the woman in my clinic with the eye tics, she was definitely depleted and had some symptoms of dryness, including a dry itchy skin and dry pellety stools. This led me to believe that she was depleted in Yin, which is a nourishing, moistening, and cooling substance in the body. This dryness was the primary cause of her symptoms, so I added into her treatment plan an herbal formula for depleted Yin, and after a few days of taking the herbs, the tics were gone.
*Names and identifying details have been changed.