Am I Blinking Too Much? Here’s What May Be Behind It
Dr. Jordan Marr
Blinking is something that we all do without thinking – but why do we do it?
Like windscreen wipers on our cars, our eyelids blink to spread our tears out and maintain lubrication and clear vision.
Excessive blinking is rarely caused by a serious problem, but it can interfere with your life, vision and cause an unwanted cosmetic effect. Plus – the psychological distress caused by excessive blinking is a very real part of the condition.
Here’s why you might be blinking too much and what you can do about it.
Why do we blink anyway?
Blinking is a way to keep our eyes healthy. We blink a lot – and I mean a lot! The average person blinks about 15,000 times a day each lasting 1/3 of a second and even more so when you’re nervous or in pain.
Have you ever noticed that you instinctively shut your eyes when you’re frightened or when someone shines a bright light in your eyes?
Blinking also serves to protect the surface of the eye from things like dirt, dust and potential harm from foreign objects and lights.
What is excessive blinking & do I have it?
Blinking is essential for our eye health, but excessive, uncontrollable blinking can indicate an underlying issue.
Although there is no clear definition of ‘too much blinking’, studies have shown that normal blinking rates of an adult are somewhere between 12-15 blinks per minute and less than 8 blinks per minute for children. Any more blinks per minute and there may be an overstimulation of your blinking reflex.
It can be difficult to measure your blinking rate as it is an automatic bodily function and happens without any thought.
A much easier way to tell if you are blinking excessively is if:
- Someone has commented on your blinking
- You’re concerned about how much you are blinking
- It affects your normal life
- It affects your vision
- You are experiencing other symptoms
What can cause ‘blinking too much’?
Excessive blinking always has an underlying cause and the stimulation of the blinking reflex often remains until the underlying issue has been fixed.
The most common cause of excessive blinking is the presence of a foreign body in the eye or under the eyelids. Your eye’s natural protective blinking mechanism heads into overdrive to attempt to remove the foreign body.
In the same way, a scratch on the front surface of the eye can create a similar effect as well as causing pain and excessive watering.
Other common causes include:
- AllergiesThese cause the eyelids to become scratchy and rough, which can increase your blinking rate. If you know your allergy triggers, avoid them and the excessive blinking should stop.
- Dry eyeAs more of us spend more time in front of our computers, dry eye related excessive blinking is becoming more common. Our blinks rapidly re-lubricate our eyes to keep them healthy, but when our eyes dry out it tells our blinking reflex to activate more frequently.
- Uncorrected vision problems and eye strainUncorrected short or long-sightedness can cause excessive blinking as you try to focus.
- StressIt isn’t uncommon for adults and children to develop excessive or forceful blinking habits in response to stress, anxiety or other triggers. If there are no eye problems, ignoring the blinking will often lead children to drop the habit on their own. It is always recommended to undergo an evaluation by an ophthalmologist or optometrist in these cases to be sure.
Other common causes of excessive blinking can include:
- Ingrown eyelash
- Blepharitis (explained below)
- Eye irritants (i.e. pollen, smoke, chemicals etc.)
- Light sensitivity
- Eye strain
Factors that can contribute to excessive blinking include:
- Long hours in front of the computer
- Humid environments
- Air-conditioning or fans
- Not wearing glasses or sunglasses
- Contact lens wear
These causes can be easily determined by seeing an optometrist or an ophthalmologist for a comprehensive evaluation.
What about Blepharospasm?
Blepharospasm is the rare uncontrollable blinking or twitching of the eyelids that can worsen and become long-term. It’s not well-known what causes blepharospasm, however we know it often runs in families and women aged 40 to 60 have a higher chance of developing it. It is thought that a miswiring of the nerves controlling your blinking reflex play a role.
Blepharospasm can be debilitating and interfere with day-to-day activities like driving or reading. Twitching of the eyelids may not always be a sign of blepharospasm and often goes away on its own.
Keep an eye out for twitching as it can be caused by lack of sleep, stress, dry eyes or allergies, eyestrain and high intake of stimulants like coffee or medication.
Potential serious causes of blinking too much
Although rare, there is a more serious side to the causes of excessive blinking that should be ruled out.
These more severe cases are always met with other symptoms that you may be experiencing.
- Meige SyndromeA rare disease characterised by uncontrollable spasms of all the muscles of the face, including the tongue and jaw.
- Bell’s PalsyA non-progressive neurological disorder of the facial nerve characterized by sudden facial paralysis on only one side.
- DystoniaA group of neurological movement disorders characterized by uncontrollable, often painful, muscle contractions.
- Hemifacial spasmA condition characterized by spasmodic contractions on one side of the face. A twitching of one eyelid eventually leading to brief forced closure of the eyelid.
How is excessive blinking diagnosed?
Excessive blinking is a disorder of exclusion meaning it is far more effective to rule out causes than to find a specific one.
The best way to diagnose excessive blinking is to see an optometrist or ophthalmologist for a comprehensive eye examination. The eye care provider will examine your eyes and search for any underlying cause – it is important to be clear about your signs and symptoms as it will help to point them in the right direction.
The eye care provider may put safe-to-use orange dye in your eye to look for dryness, allergies or foreign bodies. A mounted microscope called a slit-lamp will be used to make sure your eyes are healthy and rule out iritis, uveitis and conjunctivitis.
An eye test with a letter chart will determine if you need corrective glasses for short- or long-sightedness or prism for strabismus.
If everything is seen to be normal, it could be a neurological problem and you may need to be seen by a neurologist.
How is excessive blinking treated?
On the surface, the treatment is simple; fix the underlying cause. But it is almost always easier said than done.
If you’re fortunate, the treatment could be as easy as the removal of a foreign body, lubricating eye drops, rest or new glasses.
Try cutting back on the coffee, getting better sleep, relaxing, warm compresses over your eyes or lubricating eye drops at first. If you’re still experiencing excessive blinking it may be worth a trip to your local eye care provider for some extra tests. You may need more involved treatment like surgery or botox injections.
Botox injections for blepharospasms have shown to be extremely effective in up to 90% of cases stopping twitching and uncontrollable blinking. Surgery to fix strabismus or a myectomy which is the removal of the muscle or nerve tissue may be needed for more severe cases.
For neurological cases, these may never resolve, however treatment of the underlying condition with a neurologist is your best bet.
- “Changes in blink rate and ocular symptoms during different reading tasks”, Dovepress Clinical Optometry
- “High-speed camera characterization of voluntary eye blinking kinematics”, Journal of the Royal Society, Interface
- “Excessive Blinking In Children”, American Association for Pediatric Opthalmology and Strabismus
- “Blepharospasm”, National Eye Institute