Blinking is a normal reflex that protects the eye from dryness, bright light, and fingers or other objects coming towards it. Blinking is also important in maintaining a normal amount of tears. Tears cleanse and nourish the cornea which is the clear front surface of the eye. The blinking rate in newborns is only 2 times per minute. This increases to 14-17 times per minute in adolescence and remains at this rate through the remainder of life. Blinking normally increases in response to pain, bright light, changes in temperature and humidity, and conversation.
Excessive blinking is blinking that seems more frequent than typical. It can involve one or both eyes. It may seem more forceful than normal. It may also be associated with other movements (tics) of the face, head or neck.
Excessive blinking can be caused by problems with the eyelids or anterior segment (front surface of the eye), habitual tic, refractive error (need for glasses), intermittent exotropia or turning out of the eye, and stress. It is very rare for excessive blinking to be a sign of an undiagnosed neurologic disorder.
A pediatric ophthalmologist will be able to diagnose the cause of your child’s symptoms. A thorough exam will be performed. If your child has a problem such as an ingrown eyelash, corneal abrasion (scratch on the front surface of the eye), conjunctivitis (pink eye), foreign body in the eye, or eye dryness, this can easily be diagnosed by performing an examination with an instrument called a slit lamp. This is a special microscope used to magnify the eye. If your child needs glasses, this can also be easily detected. Any strabismus (in turning or out turning of the eye) will be diagnosed when the ophthalmologist examines your child’s eye movements.
If an abrasion or conjunctivitis is diagnosed, your child may be given eye drops or ointment. Glasses may be prescribed if the excessive blinking is caused by blurry vision.
A habitual tic is a small, voluntary body movement. It may be caused by, among other things, stress, fatigue or boredom. It usually affects both eyes at the same time. It affects boys twice as often as girls, with the average age of 5 years when it first appears. It is a benign condition that will resolve without treatment, usually within weeks to years, often recurring intermittently. There is no neurologic cause, and further evaluation and brain scans are not necessary.
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