Dystonia Society UK and Fight for Sight are funding researchers from Cardiff University to identify the symptoms associated with blepharospasm, the involuntary tight closure of the eyelids. 

The Cardiff researchers, led by Dr Kathryn Peall, will investigate whether other non-movement symptoms such as changes to mood, sleep disturbances and information processing difficulties are associated with the disorder, and whether these are linked to the severity of the muscle spasm. 

Participants will complete a series of online questionnaires relating to their general health, family history, treatments and non-movement symptoms they have experienced. Eye movement assessments and blood samples will be collected to help researchers understand the genetic changes that may contribute to blepharospasm. 

Blepharospasm affects around 7000 adults in the UK and is a condition that causes uncontrollable and often painful muscle contractions around the eye. The cause is believed to be incorrect messages from the brain to the muscles around the eye. Symptoms usually appear between the ages of 50 and 70 but it does sometimes affect younger people. 

Dr Kathryn Peall from Cardiff University, said: “We are very excited to be working with Fight for Sight and Dystonia Society UK on this project. A better understanding of the broad range of symptoms experienced by people with blepharospasm is important in enabling us to better understand why these symptoms occur, help us to continually improve our clinical service, and ultimately enable us to work towards better treatments in the future.” 

Andrea West, CEO of Dystonia Society UK said: “We are delighted to be partnering with Fight for Sight to bring much needed research and awareness to an often neglected and forgotten eye condition. This is an exciting project looking at the non-motor symptoms associated with blepharospasm and the impact it has on individuals’ quality of life.”

Dr Neil Ebenezer, Director of Research, Policy and Innovation at Fight for Sight, said: “I am pleased to be working in partnership with Dystonia Society UK to fund a project that could have direct patient impact. The knowledge gained from this study will lead to an improved understanding of the aetiology of primary blepharospasm. This will have the potential to better understand the underlying pathophysiological mechanisms, with the possibility of identifying novel therapeutic targets in the future.”