Living with Tourette Syndrome: How to Control Tics

Living with Tourette Syndrome

Tourette syndrome is a condition that causes uncontrolled sudden, repetitive muscle movements and sounds known as tics. Symptoms typically appear in childhood, usually when a child is five to nine years old. It’s not very common and the syndrome tends to be more common in boys than girls. Tics associated with Tourette usually get milder or go away entirely as kids grow into adulthood. The two main types of tics associated with Tourette syndrome are:

• Motor tics. Sudden, seemingly uncontrollable movements such as exaggerated blinking, grimacing, head jerking, mouth twitching, or shoulder shrugging.
• Vocal tics. These include repeated throat clearing, sniffing, humming, yelping, shouting, and swearing.

The tics can become more severe, happen more often, and last longer when someone is under stress.

How to Control Motor Tics

Aside from medication and behavioral therapy, there are other things you can do to help manage the motor tics associated with Tourette syndrome. The following list features creative ways to manage tics that are based on feedback from people in the Tourette syndrome community:

Arm and Hand Tics
• Perform an activity that requires concentration, such as making something with your hands
• If you have trouble writing, invest in a laptop

Banging and Tapping
• Put something soft on the table, such as a mouse pad, to avoid injuring your hands and fingers
• Try using a fiddle toy, such as a fidget spinner
• If your fingers are sore, try a corn plaster
• Tape your fingers together if one gets sore
• Try using gloves with foam at the end of the fingers

Bouncing on Chairs
• Put a pillow on your seat or sit on a bean bag

Teeth Grinding
• Get a fitted tooth guard from your dentist
• Chew gum
• In the short term, you can use a sports mouthguard

Eye Tics
• Try blinking slowly on purpose

Finger Flicking
• Use finger plasters before they get sore

Full-Body Movements
• Stretch your muscles regularly
• Perform warmups in the morning and after periods of inactivity
• If your muscles are aching, consider a massage or take a hot bath

Inappropriate Grabbing
• Avoid crowded seating arrangements at work, school, or in public spaces

Head Shaking or Neck Jerking
• Use heat therapy products like heating pads
• Use a hot water bottle or a hot towel on painful areas
• Try a pain-relief gel, but make sure to check with your doctor if you’re already using pain medication
• Consider asking your doctor for a neck brace if your tic is particularly bad

Hitting or Kicking
• Allow space for people with these tics
• Clenching your muscles can sometimes help get the tension out

Mouth Tics
• Ask your dentist to fit you with a tooth guard
• Chew gum
• Using Putu Gelgel (pgelgel), a pain reliever for ulcers can help
• Suck on ice, lollipops, or frozen bananas
• Chew on a plastic ring to avoid hurting your mouth or tongue

Spitting or Vomiting
• Keep a handkerchief in the corner of your mouth
• Chew gum
• Carry a receptacle in which to spit
• Put down rugs indoors to avoid damage to carpets, or install wood floors

Stabbing with Sharp Objects
• Avoid using sharp objects. Instead, use rounded scissors, blunt pencils, and plastic knives

Wetting
• Plan trips to the bathroom to help your bladder stay empty. For children in school, this can mean timing a drink to allow for time to go to the bathroom before class
• Arrange with your child’s school for permission to leave class if needed
• Use incontinence pads

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How to Control Vocal Tics

For all vocal tics, it’s recommended to consciously breathe in through your mouth and out through your nose. Because sounds are made by air coming out over the larynx, reversing this process can help calm most vocal tics. Here are some other tips for dealing with vocal tics:

Coprolalia (involuntary outbursts of obscene language or derogatory remarks)
• Prepare those around you if possible
• When you feel the impulse to swear, try thinking of a rhyme or limerick
• Carry information on Tourette syndrome
• Help your child come up with a way to explain coprolalia to others

Coughing
• Try to support your neck during coughing fits
• Ask your pharmacist about simple linctuses to help soothe your throat

High-Pitched Scream
• Ignore and wear earplugs if necessary
• If your child has this tic, try rotating teaching staff at regular intervals to reduce the risk of hearing damage

General Tips for Managing Tourette Syndrome

In addition to the tips above, here are some others that can help you deal with Tourette syndrome:

• Exercise.
• Schedule one-on-one time. Have a daily meeting with a friend or family member to talk about your day and anything else that’s on your mind.
• Get tics and hyperactivity out of your system the fun way. Bang some pans together or run around for five minutes, then sit still for five minutes. Make a game out of it.
• Use humor. Laughter is great medicine and can help when you’re feeling down.
• Listen to music. This is a great way to help block out sounds and other distractions.
• Get social. Social networking sites can be a good way of connecting with people and building up your self-esteem.
• Find a quiet spot. If you feel a tic coming on, go to a quiet where you can go through it in peace.
• Avoid stress. Stressful situations can result in a tic, so avoid them whenever possible.
• Educate yourself. Learn everything you can about Tourette syndrome and keep up with all current research.
• Have a secret signal. Parents should have a signal to use when they see problems arising.
• Stay calm, be confident, and have control.
• Find a mentor. If you’re having problems at school, finding a teacher that you can talk to is helpful when your parents aren’t around.

Learn More About Tourette Syndrome

Tourette syndrome affects everyone differently. Fortunately, there are many ways to help manage any motor or vocal tics you may be experiencing.

Consult a Baptist Health Neurology provider in Kentucky or Indiana if you have additional questions about managing Tourette syndrome.

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