Excessive eye blinking is a fairly common problem. Patients often wonder, “What causes excessive blinking in adults and children?”, “How much is too much eye blinking?”. I’ve even had patients ask me “Why can I hear my eyelids blink?”.
We’ll answer the last question first. As strange as it may seem, you may sometimes be able to hear yourself blink because of the moisture in your eye being moved around by the movement of your eyelids. This is completely normal and in fact a good thing. You do have to blink! Why do we need to blink our eyes? Blinking is the body's natural way of cleansing the mucous membrane of the eye and supplying tears to the surface of the eye to keep the tissues lubricated and healthy.
A “normal” eye blinking rate for most adults can range between 8 to 20 blinks per minute, depending on the study you look at. For children, blinking is typically less than eight times per minute. If you feel like you or your child have too much eye blinking going on, there might be an underlying condition that’s causing the issue. In rare instances it may be a sign of a neurologic problem - in this case you would have other neurological symptoms - but, thankfully, most of the reasons for excessive blinking are not serious.
One of the most common reasons for excessive blinking is simple eye irritation and eye strain. Maybe your eyes are dry from a long day of staring at screens. Maybe you’ve been out working in the yard and your eyes are irritated from allergies or dirt and dust. Maybe you were up late studying for exams. When your eyes are uncomfortable, you blink more often. In many cases artificial tears or allergy eye drops may fix the problem.
Another common reason for excessive blinking, particularly in children, is uncorrected, blurry vision or having an eye that wanders, called strabismus. Often, and even in the case of strabismus, glasses or contacts can remedy this problem. If you notice your child rubbing their eyes and blinking a lot, outside of irritation and allergies, it may be a good idea to get their eyes examined by an eye care professional.
Still, another common reason for increased blinking can be related to fatigue, stress and anxiety. Patients with nervous tics will often blink excessively. If you ask them they might even reply: “I like blinking, it makes me feel better.”
In the case of nervous tics or excess anxiety and stress, it may be a good idea to talk to your general healthcare or mental health provider about coping mechanisms or even medications to take to deal with the underlying nervous conditions.
Finally, while rare, excessive blinking can be caused by an eye movement disorder, such as benign essential blepharospasm. Or, it can be caused by a more serious problem such as Wilson’s disease, Multiple Sclerosis or Tourettes. As a reminder, in these more serious cases, you would have other neurological symptoms manifested.
With the above points in mind, if you are experiencing excessive blinking that’s interfering with your everyday activities, try to keep it simple at first. Try to relax more, use artificial tears, wear your glasses as directed. However, if you, or in particular your child, appear to be having issues with excessive blinking and you’re suspicious there may be more to it than simple eye strain, irritation, fatigue, or stress. Please reach out to your eye care provider, or your general healthcare provider to discuss your concerns.