Are you blinking too much at your desk?

Entrepreneurs work long hours. But this optician says excessive blinking can be a warning sign of serious health problems
Nimmi Mistry
Model with sore eyes

Blinking is usually a subconscious natural action that hydrates and cleans your eyes by spreading your tears over their outer surface. It also protects your eye by closing it to keep out dust, other irritants, very bright light, and foreign objects. However, there’s such a thing as too much blinking. Excessive blinking could be a symptom of various issues, some of which may require a trip to your GP.

As part of a recent study Vision Direct looked at blinking patterns and has asked Nimmi Mistry, professional services optician at Vision Direct, to share what “normal” looks like when it comes to blinking and what excessive blinking could indicate.

What does normal blinking look like?

As we age our blinking frequency changes. New-born babies only blink about two times per minute, but by the time you’re an adult, this increases to 14 to 17 times per minute and then stays around this number for the rest of your life.

Blinking patterns can change with certain situations, for example it may slow during periods of focus and speed up when you’re in a stressful situation. Excessive blinking is therefore categorised as frequent rapid blinking which may interfere with your daily life, activities, or vision.

Eight possible causes of excessive blinking

The good news is that most of the issues which cause excessive blinking aren’t serious and, in many cases, will either resolve on their own or require minimum treatment. Some, however, can lead to eye health complications if not addressed quickly.

1. Hay fever

Hay fever is an allergic reaction to pollen which is usually at its worst between March and September when the pollen count is at its highest. Typical symptoms include sneezing, a runny nose, or a headache, while the pollen irritating your eyes can cause you to blink more often.

Although there’s no cure or prevention for hay fever, there are several treatments which can lessen the impact, including antihistamines, Vaseline under your nostrils to stop pollen getting into the nasal passage and wraparound sunglasses to prevent pollen reaching your eyes. If you suffer severely from hay fever symptoms, private clinics offer treatments such as a Kenalog injection which relieves most if not all symptoms for the 6-month period.

2. Dry eyes

Dryness can lead to eyes feeling sore, watery, and gritty. Your tear film has three layers: fatty oils, aqueous fluid, and mucus, all of which combine to help keep the surface of your eyes sufficiently lubricated, clear and protected. Problems with any of these layers can cause dry eyes and as a result, increased blinking to soothe these symptoms.

There are many factors which could cause tear film dysfunction including hormone changes, autoimmune disease, inflamed eyelid glands or allergic eye disease, and decreased tear production or increased tear evaporation.

The remedies for dry eye include the use of artificial tears, regular screen breaks and getting enough sleep. Prolonged dry eye however can also increase your risk of an eye infection due to a reduction in tear production. If your dry eyes are constantly reoccurring, you should arrange to see a health professional to identify and eliminate any underlying causes.

Dry eyes may not sound very serious but if left untreated, severe dry eye may lead to eye inflammation, abrasion of the corneal surface, corneal ulcers and complications with the quality of your vision.

3. Corneal abrasion (or other eye injury)

A corneal abrasion is a small scratch on the cornea. Common causes include a fingernail scraping the eye, getting grit in the eye (particularly if the grit is rubbed in further) and poor technique when inserting and removing contact lenses.

This type of injury, although small, can be extremely painful due to the number of nerves that supply the cornea. The pain typically starts to subside as the scratch heals, which can take approximately 24 to 48 hours for mild abrasions. However, if you find the severity of the pain increases, with extreme sensitivity to lights, a decline in vision, or a general worsening of the appearance of your eyes, you should seek immediate medical advice.

4. Conjunctivitis

Conjunctivitis, also known as pink eye, is an inflammation or infection of the conjunctiva, which is the thin, mucus membrane that covers the white part of the eye and lines the inner surface of the eyelid. It can affect one or both eyes and is a common condition that can occur in people of all ages.

There are several types of conjunctivitis, including:

Viral Conjunctivitis: This is the most common form and is usually caused by a virus, such as a cold. It’s highly contagious and can spread easily through droplet contact with infected individuals or objects. A viral form of the infection normally causes a watery discharge during the day and crusty eyelids in the morning. There’s no cure and those with this type of conjunctivitis simply need to wait it out, but you can relieve symptoms with eye drops and by cleaning your eyes with water and clean cotton pads.

Bacterial Conjunctivitis: This type of conjunctivitis is caused by bacteria, such as Staphylococcus aureus or Streptococcus pneumoniae. If a bacterium is responsible for the infection, it will normally cause a yellow or green sticky discharge throughout the day. There are antibiotic eye drops which can either be prescribed or bought over the counter which will help clear up the infection.

Allergic Conjunctivitis: This occurs when the conjunctiva becomes irritated due to an allergic reaction to substances like pollen, dust mites, pet dander, or certain products. It presents in a similar way to viral conjunctivitis but is usually accompanied by nasal congestion and sneezing. It is not contagious but is likely to reoccur in those that suffer with this type.

5. Blepharitis

Blepharitis causes an inflammation of the eyelids that leads to, among other things, intermittent blurring of your vision, redness of parts of the eyelids and itching.

It can be caused by various factors, including bacterial infection, blockage of the Meibomian glands in the eyelids (responsible for producing the oily component of your tears), or skin conditions such as seborrheic dermatitis can increase the risk factor.

Blepharitis and its associated dryness give a foreign body sensation, so your blinking reflex works harder to alleviate this irritation. This can result in increased blinking or even a repetitive blinking pattern.

6. Eye strain

Eyestrain, also known as asthenopia, is a condition characterised by discomfort or fatigue in the eyes. It typically occurs after prolonged periods of visual activities that require intense concentration, such as reading, using a computer or smartphone, or driving.

Eyestrain can manifest as a variety of symptoms, including eye fatigue, dryness, blurred vision, headaches, and, of course, excessive blinking.

To help alleviate these symptoms it’s important to take regular screen breaks, the 20-20-20 rule can be good for this, ensure your work set up adheres to DSE regulations and introduce artificial tears into your daily routine.

7. Vision problems

Undiagnosed visual problems can also cause someone to excessively blink as the eyes try to focus and become strained as a result. If you’re finding it more difficult to see long distance or read up close, then it’s recommended that you see an optician for an eye test.

It’s important to have an eye test every two years, but, if you’ve been experiencing any of the symptoms above for a pro-longed period, it’s essential to see an eye care professional as soon as you can to eliminate any visual complications.

8. Fatigue

When we're tired, the muscles responsible for controlling eye movement and maintaining focus may become fatigued. Blinking can help momentarily relieve any discomfort, which is partially why blinking increases when we’re tired.

Fatigued eyes usually caused by pro-longed screen work and lack of sleep can aggravate dry eyes. Blinking helps spread tears across the surface of the eye, providing moisture and alleviating symptoms of dryness. 

Vision Direct have developed a tool called the “the blinking test” that encourages users to click a button every time they blink for the course of one minute. At the end it will tell you how many times you blinked and how that measures up against the average blinking pattern - letting you know if your blinking pattern falls within the normal range or not.

Written by
Nimmi Mistry
Written by
August 24, 2023