Blinking is a reflex, which means your body does it automatically. You can also make yourself blink when you want to. Excessive blinking is when you blink more than you want to.
A number of things can cause excessive blinking. The most common cause in adults is a problem on the surface of your eye.
Excessive blinking might be irritating, but it’s rarely caused by a serious problem. When it is, it’s part of a neurologic syndrome, and there are usually other neurologic symptoms.
Blinking lubricates and cleans your eyes by spreading your tears over its outer surface. It also protects your eye by closing it to keep out dust, other irritants, very bright light, and foreign objects.
Babies and children only blink about two times per minute. By the time you reach adolescence, that increases to 14 to 17 times per minute. It stays at that number for the rest of your life.
You blink more when you’re talking, nervous, or in pain. You blink less while reading or when you sense possible danger.
There’s not an exact definition for excessive blinking. It’s usually considered excessive when it interferes with your life, vision, or activities.
Excessive blinking occurs when your blinking reflex is overstimulated by something. Most of these causes can affect adults and children.
You may blink more than you’d like if you have irritation on the front surface of your eye, such as:
- eye irritants such as smoke, pollen (allergic reaction), pollution, chemical vapors, foreign object, or dust in the air
- dry eyes
- scratch on the outside of your eye (corneal abrasion) or other eye injury
- ingrown eyelash (trichiasis)
- pinkeye (conjunctivitis)
- inflammation of your iris (iritis)
- inflammation of your eyelid (blepharitis)
Eyestrain is when you get tired heavy eyes after focusing on one thing too long. Many things can cause eye strain. The most common reasons include:
- being in very bright light
- reading for a long time
- spending a long time in front of a computer
The most common vision problems are easily fixed with corrective lenses and include:
- Myopia. Nearsightedness, especially without the proper corrective eyewear.
- Hyperopia. Farsightedness, especially without the proper corrective eyewear.
- Presbyopia. Age-related eye changes that affect near vision such as reading things like menus, newspapers, and books.
- Strabismus. When your eyes aren’t properly aligned.
Movement disorder (eye dystonia)
The most common eye movement disorders include:
- Benign essential blepharospasm. Spasms of your eye muscles cause rapid involuntary blinking.
- Meige syndrome. Blepharospasm with associated mouth and jaw spasms.
Mental and physical health issues
When you are under stress, you may become more sensitive to light and eye strain. General health conditions that may cause an increase in eye blinking include:
Some people get into the habit of involuntary excessive blinking. It may become a habit after initially starting from one of the causes described above (especially stress), but sometimes there is no preceding cause. For some people, eye blinking becomes a nervous tic.
Other causes in children
Most causes of overstimulation of the blinking reflex are similar in adults and children, but there are two causes common in children but rare in adults.
Blinking on purpose
In children, blinking excessively on purpose is the most common cause. Boys tend do this more than girls. Often, it’s done for attention. It’s most common around the age of five.
In rare cases, excessive blinking is seen in children who have a seizure disorder. Some researchers even think it could be classified as a new type of seizure.
Some neurologic conditions are known to cause excessive blinking. However, it’s important to remember that the odds of your excessive blinking being a serious condition are very low.
- Wilson’s disease. This condition is caused by excess copper in your body. It gets deposited in different organs, causing different symptoms. When it’s deposited in your brain, it can cause a variety of neurologic symptoms in addition to excessive blinking. This might include clumsiness, facial grimacing, and tremors.
- Multiple sclerosis. This condition affects your central nervous system. Other symptoms besides excessive blinking include problems with vision, balance, coordination, and ability to control your muscles.
- Tourette syndrome. This condition causes sudden involuntary movements and vocal outbursts. When the muscle movement is around the eye, it can cause excessive blinking.
Your doctor may be able to make the diagnosis just by looking at your eyes for conditions like strabismus, conjunctivitis, or an ingrown eyelash.
For other conditions, an eye doctor (ophthalmologist or optometrist) may need to use the tools and equipment in their office.
ways to diagnose eye blinking problems
Your doctor can diagnose what’s causing your eye blinking issues by:
- conducting a complete eye exam, looking at your eye movements
- performing a refraction test to determine if you need glasses
- using a slit lamp, which is a microscope that allows your doctor to see a magnified view of your eye, to look for problems
Depending on the cause, excessive blinking may go away on its own, or it may need treatment.
When excessive blinking is the only symptom and no cause is found, your doctor will usually just wait to see what happens over the next few weeks or months. Chances are it will have resolved on its own by the time you follow up with your doctor.
Occasionally, excessive blinking doesn’t get better on its own. But when you follow up with your doctor, a treatable problem may become more obvious.
Treatment for excessive blinking depends on the underlying cause.
Treatment for eye irritation depends on the irritant and includes options such as:
- avoiding irritants like smoke or pollution that bother your eyes
- applying warm compresses for infected or irritated eye(s)
- taking over-the-counter eye drops for lubrication or allergies
- taking allergy medications like antihistamines
- taking prescriptions antibiotic and steroid drops
- using an eye patch for a corneal abrasion
- pulling out ingrown eyelashes for temporary relief or using electrolysis to permanently remove ingrown eyelashes
Eye strain is treated by cutting down on your exposure to the things that cause it, including very bright light and prolonged periods spent reading or in front of your computer.
Vision problems are treated by correcting your vision. This can include:
- wearing prescription glasses or contact lenses with the proper amount of correction
- vision therapy
- eye muscle surgery
Movement disorders can be improved with botulinum toxin (Botox):
- Paralyzing or weakening your eye muscles with Botox can improve the symptoms of blepharospasm for up to three months.
- Botox injections with or without drug therapy can reduce the severity of Meige syndrome.
Mental and physical health can be improved by things that help you relax and feel calm, such as:
- getting enough sleep every night
Blinking excessively out of habit often gets better on its own. If it doesn’t, self-help books or seeing a therapist may help.
Serious neurological conditions
If you have a serious neurologic condition like multiple sclerosis or Tourette syndrome, you doctor will evaluate your condition and work with you to create a treatment plan for your needs.
when to see your doctor
Even when excessive blinking stops on its own, there are some symptoms that should always be evaluated and treated by your doctor. These symptoms include:
- eye injury
- corneal abrasion
If you have excessive blinking along with other neurological symptoms, especially spasms or jerking around your face and neck, see your doctor as soon as possible. It may be a sign that you have a neurological condition.
Many times, excessive blinking can be prevented if you know what’s causing it. Here are some ways to prevent excessive blinking:
- Avoid being around anything that irritates your eyes, such as smoke and allergens.
- Keep your eyes moist with lubricating eye drops.
- See your doctor whenever you suspect your eye is inflamed or infected.
- Avoid spending a prolonged time in bright light, including sunlight.
- Take frequent breaks while reading or working at a computer to avoid eye strain.
- Get regular eye exams, and make sure your prescription glasses are the right strength.
- Engage in relaxing activities that help you reduce stress, anxiety, and fatigue.
Excessive blinking can be caused by a number of things. Very rarely, excessive blinking is a sign of a serious neurologic syndrome. When it is, you usually have other neurologic symptoms.
Usually, the cause of excessive eye blinking isn’t serious. Often it will go away on its own without treatment, but some things like corneal abrasions and eye infections should always be evaluated and treated by your doctor.