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    Tics, or Involuntary Movements

    December 13, 2006 by Brandy Vencel

    This summer, we had a very strange incident with E. He woke up from his nap, and he was overwhelmed by tics. I’m not talking about a simple shoulder shrug here. As I attempted to document them, I counted at least fifteen separate involuntary movements. He had difficulty functioning normally because of them–it was next to impossible for him to talk or eat or run or play or anything because the tics were so disruptive. This was very hard for me to watch, and very hard for E. to handle.

    Because he just woke up with this problem, right out of the blue, I didn’t call the doctor on the first day. Besides the fact that it felt very unreal to me that my child could have such a severe problem, I think part of me naively thought that something in his brain became disorganized during sleep and would fix itself during the next time he slept.

    But that’s not what happened.

    On Day 2, I called the doctor. He couldn’t get us in until the following day, and the appointment was with the doctor that I believe overmedicates while underdiagnosing. I was disappointed, but I felt at that point he should see a doctor regardless in case this was a major health problem.

    On Day 3, we went to the doctor. I had done some major research before we went, so even though this doctor, predictably, wanted to give the poor boy a tranquilizer and send him to preschool {seriously, this was what he thought would fix the problem}, I was able to get a number of blood tests ran. I knew from my research that issues with copper and magnesium, as well as a couple infectious diseases, needed to be ruled out, and the doctor was willing to run the tests I asked him for.

    All the tests came back within normal ranges.

    I never gave him the tranquilizer because I didn’t have a diagnosis. I mentioned in the fever post that I’m not a huge fan of medication, and certainly not without a diagnosis. Also, as hard as it was to watch him and worry with him, I didn’t want to cover up symptoms. What if, underneath the tranquilizer, he was really getting worse, but I didn’t know? I couldn’t take that chance.

    Day by day, the tics lessened in severity. A week later, we were able to see the doctor I had hoped to see initially. She told me that had she seen us on the first day, she would have run a full toxicity scan because she has seen excessive tics come on suddenly due to children getting into medications. She specifically mentioned Benadryl or other antihistamines. Apparently, the first doctor might have been encouraging me to continue to poison my son, because the tranquilizer was a relative of Benadryl.

    The tics are controllable now. More importantly, he can run and play and be a little boy. What I have noticed is that they seem to increase if I am not careful with his diet. I do not know what brought them on in the first place, but I have figured out how to keep them under control. What is required of me here is a lot of discipline. I find that everytime I let up in areas of food especially, I start to see him displaying tics, and I realize that the whole thing was probably avoidable.

    Here is what we avoid and other changes we have made:

    • Antihistamines: Benadryl especially…we just don’t give him anything at all. Thankfully, he doesn’t have any known environmental allergies.


    • Food additives: We discovered that E. should not have excess sugar {like candy}, Red 40 {this is probably the biggest issue}, citric acid {which also affects his kidneys and makes him go to the bathroom too often}, and dairy. Red 40 is in EVERYTHING {it is used to make purple and brown also}, so I pretty much cook from scratch. It is in cereals, crackers, most snack foods, and even most strawberry and rasberry yogurt. Red 40 is also in lot of cough syrups and liquid kid medicines, so ask for dye free at the pharmacy. Tylenol has a dye-free line of OTC meds. We try not to use medications at all, but dye-free would definitely be our choice if we felt we had need of something.



    • Household toxins: We are careful about exposure to bug spray, weed killer, fertilizer, and I also recently switched to a laundry detergent called Charlie’s Soap that is the only detergent on the market I’ve found with no known toxins {it was also cheaper than what I was already using}. The average detergent does not rinse completely from the fabric and gets on the skin when the garment is worn. Skin is permeable, and the toxins enter straight into the blood stream through the skin. Perfumes and dyes that are in soaps are actually poisons, so our fabric softener is unscented, and we are careful about the soaps we buy, etc.



    • Lotions: I’ve mentioned before that I think sunscreen is bad. The first post I wrote on the subject dealt primarily with the fact that sun is beneficial to one’s health, and so though there is a need to be reasonable about sun exposure, blocking sun doesn’t make much sense. Consider this the other side of the coin. As I mentioned above, skin is permeable. There are many toxins in sunscreen, as well as in the average bottle of lotion. E. never wears sunscreen now, and we are also careful about the types of lotion he uses when he has dry skin.



    • Epsom Salt Baths: I have learned that a great way to help a child detox is to put them in a bathtub of warm water and add 1/2 to 1 cup of Epsom Salt. Let the child play in the water for 15-20 minutes while the salt soaks into the child’s skin. Epsom Salt releases a type of magnesium into the blood stream that aids in detox. If the child is hyperactive after such a bath, he does not need the treatment.



    So I might sound a bit crazy, but apparently all or some of this is having an effect because our little boy’s average day is now very normal. And really, though processed foods pumped full of Red 40 can feel quite convenient, they really aren’t very healthy. And being unhealthy is very, very inconvenient.




    Want to read our story of recovery? My series of posts Tics: There and Back Again tells all. Start with Part I.


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  • Reply Heather January 31, 2021 at 9:39 pm

    Thank you for the post. How is your son doing these days?

    • Reply Brandy Vencel February 1, 2021 at 11:03 am

      He’s doing great! It’s been almost 15 years since I wrote that post. He’s now in college and the only time he has tics is if he’s coming down with a virus. ♥ It took many years to straighten him out, but he’s now in a place where he can eat mostly what other people eat and is only moderately careful about environmental toxins.

  • Reply Tara July 14, 2016 at 1:40 pm

    “And really, though processed foods pumped full of Red 40 can feel quite convenient, they really aren’t very healthy. And being unhealthy is very, very inconvenient.” That’s a great line, Brandy. So true.

    I’m curious if you found any good information about other things that cause tics, particularly when it’s fewer of them and not as sudden as what you described.

    In your son’s case, do you think that taking Benadryl triggered the initial episode?

    • Reply Brandy Vencel August 4, 2016 at 8:18 pm

      I have come across other things causing tics, yes. I’ve heard of some people saying they observed dramatic improvement from going gluten free — so maybe gluten was the culprit? That is the hard part. I’m not sure that it’s true that what helps with the healing indicates what caused the problem, you know?

      In our case, though he has never been diagnosed this way, I still wonder if this situation is what they call PANDAS — only because that is characterized by sudden and severe onset.

  • Reply Anonymous June 12, 2014 at 8:22 pm

    I just came across your site and found it helpful. My son was perfectly fine like yours until the day I gave him Claritin Allergy medicine for kids. I’m so leery of over the counter drugs and broke down and give it to him because he was suffering so much and didn’t know what to do, I gave it to him two days in a row and wish I could turn back time. He had horrific motor tics that weekend and it’s only been 5 days later, he is better but not 100% back to where he was and now I’m not sure if he’ll ever be. When I called my doctor’s office, they said it was a coincidence and very normal for kids this age to get tics? Seems very abnormal to me. We are going really work on his diet and pray that this helps bring him back to the little boy he was 5 days ago. Thanks for documenting your story for other to read.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel June 16, 2014 at 1:35 pm

      I am so sorry this happened to your son!

      When I spoke with our pediatrician about this situation, she said that is IS normal for children to acquire tics around ages four or five. But a SINGLE tic — not a whole collection of them. She said that something like that, where the child has no tics, and then wakes with MANY tics, is, to her mind, not the same thing!

    • Reply Lindsay April 26, 2021 at 5:12 pm

      Thanks for your comment! Our sun had an allergy triggered asthma attack a few weeks ago so we were told to give him Claritin daily. He developed several tics so I’m struggling now as we have the choice between asthma and tics. Allergy season needs to end now!!

  • Reply Brandy June 30, 2008 at 8:04 pm


    Sunburns are definitely to be avoided! My children have strawberry hair (well, two of them do), but they are fortunate in that I seem to be able to accustom them to the sun. In the spring, we start with 10 minutes and work all the way up to where they can spend about 2 hours in the sun without a problem (of course, they are in and out of the shade as they are running around playing). However, I’ve been looking into sunscreen because there are just times when they are exposed to enough sun to burn, and burns aren’t good! 🙂

    I myself am considering purchasing the new sunscreen from Dr. Mercola’s website. He’s managed to use minerals to block sun, and use a variety of oils and extracts to create a totally nontoxic sunscreen. Since it contains the appropriate minerals for sunblock, I am assuming that it works.

    Another option is using clothing. A lot of folks in our area who work outside wear lightweight clothing that covers most of their skin as a form of sunblock. That would be an option sometimes, I think. I love long flowy skirts in the summer…they keep me so cool!

    And this one will sound crazy, but in a pinch, use mud! Smearing mud on the skin will block a lot of the sun. If you ever found yourself on a deserted island, stuck on a roadside, or in other dire circumstances, I would highly suggest using mud to protect your skin. 🙂

    Hope this helps! 🙂

  • Reply Vanessa June 30, 2008 at 7:19 pm

    Hello. First let me say I just discovered your blog today and I am delighted at your insight. I am curious though to your opinion of sunscreen. I am a redhead with very very fair skin. My skin is riddled with freckles from a lifetime (I”m 22, lol) of sunburns. I think it’s very reasonable for many people to live life normally without sunscreen, but one hour in the sun for me means a sunburn, any more than that and I subject myself to large blisters and incredibly painful burns. We keep aloe vera gel in the refridgerator just in case i forget to reapply sunscreen often enough. I guess I don’t quite understand what you suppose a person like me is to do? My mother in law has a very similar complextion to me and has already had skin cancer removed in her 50s.

  • Reply Brandy December 10, 2007 at 10:35 pm

    For my son, tics are most definitely tied to environmental factors, chiefly allergies. We were able to narrow down most of his allergies just by using a food journal. I hadn’t thought much of his tummy aches until I realized that a tummy ache right after eating was the best predictor of whether he would have tics later on in the day.

    I have been told by doctors that SWELLING in particular is a sign of a serious allergy. I am sure this is obvious to you if you are carrying an EpiPen. Are Claritin and Zyrtec related to Benadryl? In my research, I found that tics can be due to a high toxicity level, which antihistamines can contribute to. If I were you, I’d take him in and request (demand?) a toxicity scan next time his face swells. Something might show up when he is at his worst that doesn’t show up at other times.

    If he has a toxicity problem, reducing toxic load certainly helped our son and could possibly help yours. I detailed most of it in the post already.

    If he were like my son, and there is no way of knowing if he is, I would consider the facial swelling to be connected to the tics and try to find an underlying cause. Major allergens tend to be wheat, dairy, soy, eggs, and shellfish but some people even react strangely to bananas so keep looking. Is there a food your son eats an excessive amount of? Some people crave the very thing that hurts them, so try taking that one thing away and see what happens. It certainly won’t hurt him to take, say, three weeks off of wheat or something and observe any responses. Three weeks is a good amount of time. If you don’t think you see anything, try the food and again see if he has a reaction. That might be the most obvious part of the test: what happens if he eats a food that he didn’t eat for three weeks.

    I am not an expert. I can only speak from my own experience, which tells me that some children have allergies (in the sense that they respond negatively to something in a pretty serious way) that simply don’t show up on a blood test or skin test, but they are very real.

  • Reply Anonymous December 10, 2007 at 7:15 pm

    I am so thrilled to read your entry, as I have been dealing with a similar situation since my son was 5 and he will be 10 in Jan of 2008. Our problem is now that he has mysterious swellings that occur once a month in his face/jaw/mouth. I now have an EpiPen and the doctor has put him on Claritin and Zyrtec to prevent the swellings. Problem: These meds make his tic really bad! I don’t want him on the meds, but he can’t risk having a swelling where he can’t breathe either. Any advice is more than welcome!!!!

  • Reply Anonymous October 24, 2007 at 12:09 am

    i read your blog with interest because i am concerned that my 5-year old son has tics(not been diagnosed) and he seems to have a new involuntary movement every few months. I’m so confused and don’t know where to turn. I’m not sure if I’m on about nothing or if it’s something that’s potentially serious. Thanks for the post

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