Believe it or not, by becoming more conscious of how often you blink, you can identify issues with eye health and help prevent dry eyes.
How often do we blink? It’s not something people tend to think about, mostly because blinking comes as naturally to us as breathing. Yet when we don’t blink as frequently as we should, our eyes may suffer as a result.
Why is blinking so important? Every time we blink, tears wash over our eyes and clear out allergens, dust, and dead cells. This prevents infection, delivers nutrients to our eyes, and preserves an unclouded surface so our retinas receive a sharp image. Blinking is particularly important for contact lens wearers because it maintains the layers of tears on which contact lenses rest.
A normal rate of blinking ranges between 10 and 15 blinks per minute. That said, this frequency will fluctuate based on a number of factors, such as the environment we’re in or the activities in which we’re engaged. Becoming more conscious of blinking is the first step in identifying if there may be an issue with your eye health, as infrequent blinking can be symptomatic of other, more serious conditions.
What Happens When We Don’t Blink
When we fail to moisturize our eyes by blinking, we may feel a gritty or burning sensation in our eyes, or we may experience watery eyes or blurred vision. These symptoms closely mirror those of dry eye, a medical condition caused by a lack of tear production.
Working in a dry, windy, or air conditioned environment saps eyes of moisture by decreasing tear production and evaporating the tears that are produced. Although we may not realize we’re doing it, we also blink less when we’re focusing on a challenging task, such as when we stare intently at a computer screen. Conversely, we tend to blink more often when we talk to others or become agitated or excited.
The rate at which we blink is also affected by age, chronic medical conditions, and medications. As we get older, our eyes become dryer. People with rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, and thyroid disorders are more likely to experience the symptoms of dry eye, and blood pressure medications, antihistamines, and antidepressants all may reduce tear production.
While the rate of blinks per minute is important, so is the completeness of the blinks. When we don’t close our eyelids fully during a blink, we don’t receive the benefits of the tears. More precisely, the lipid layer of the tear that protects against evaporation doesn’t wash over the eye’s entire surface. This lipid layer is produced by the meibomian glands in the eye, and when a blink isn’t completed, meibum builds up in the glands and causes meibomian gland dysfunction.
How to Blink Effectively
If you’re concerned about having a low blink rate, your doctor can observe how you blink and recommend the best plan of action. As a low blink rate and dry eye syndrome are closely related, your doctor will also examine your tear flow to determine if it’s sufficient. If you’re diagnosed with dry eye, your doctor can prescribe medication and treatment to help increase tear production.
However, if you think your symptoms are solely caused by not blinking enough, there are a few exercises you can try to train your eyes to blink more frequently. Try closing your eyes for five seconds and then opening them. Repeat 15 times, making sure you close your eyelids completely each time. Or, try blinking 10 times, making sure to look in different directions between each blink (up, down, left, right, and straight ahead). These types of exercises are especially important for those who spend long stretches of the day staring at a computer screen, and easily can be performed during work breaks at your desk.
Let Us Care for Your Eyes
Living with uncomfortable and scratchy eyes directly impacts your work and quality of life. Here at Swagel Wootton Eye Institute, we’ve evaluated many patients for dry eye syndrome and other eye disorders that may be caused in part by an abnormal blink rate. Contact us today to schedule an appointment.