What is the role of drug treatment for benign essential blepharospasm (BEB)?

Updated: May 20, 2019
  • Author: Robert H Graham, MD; Chief Editor: Edsel Ing, MD, MPH, FRCSC  more...
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Since the central control center for blepharospasm is unknown, drug therapy directed against this as of yet unidentified center tends to follow a "shotgun approach." Historically, an extensive list of drugs has been used to treat blepharospasm, in part because blepharospasm initially was considered a manifestation of psychiatric illness, and because no one drug was demonstrably more efficacious than another. Recently, these psychoactive medicines have been used not for their psychotropic action but for their motor system action.

Most patients respond incompletely or not at all to pharmacotherapy. At best, pharmacotherapy provides only partial, transient relief. Patients react differently to the various pharmacologic agents, and there is no way to predict which patient may respond to any particular agent. Tricyclic antidepressants do not directly help blepharospasm but are useful if there is depression exacerbating the symptoms. Drugs with the highest percentages of favorable patient responses include lorazepam (67% of patients), clonazepam (42%), and Artane (41%). The relief provided by these agents is variable.

Although drugs from a variety of different classes have demonstrated some effectiveness in blepharospasm, drug therapy for blepharospasm and facial dystonias usually are based upon the following 3 unproven pharmacologic hypotheses: (1) cholinergic excess, (2) GABA hypofunction, and (3) dopamine excess. Pharmacotherapy is generally less effective than botulinum toxin injections and, thus, is reserved as second-line treatment for spasms that poorly respond to botulinum toxin, such as in mid-face and lower-face spasm.

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