Many years ago, before I learned I was a bad blinker, I attended a job-related rally being covered by the local news stations. When a reporter approached and asked to interview me, I happily agreed. That evening the interview aired on the local news channel. I was excited about being on TV, that is, until I saw myself. I was blinking a lot, a whole lot.
Still young and vain, I’d hoped anyone who was watching and knew me wouldn’t notice my crazy blinking. Beyond that, I didn’t give the excessive blinking too much thought, brushing it off as something having to do with my nerves. Maybe it was some kind of nervous tic, like when people wrinkle their noses or grind their teeth when they’re talking to someone.
I Was Always the One Ruining Photos
Eventually I noticed that in photographs I was always the one caught blinking, making me look like I’d had an adult beverage, or two, too many. If my eyes happened to be open, they always looked tired, making me feel self-conscious. I began avoiding cameras like the plague, unless I was wearing sunglasses or, if not those, my reading glasses.
By now you’re probably wondering why I’m going into so much detail about my bad blinking. It’s simple. Before being diagnosed with chronic Dry Eye, I took blinking for granted (except as noted above). Blinking to me was just a natural process, and while I blinked a lot, I really had no clue about the important role blinking plays in eye health.
Who Knew Anyone Could be a Bad Blinker?
Then, with the onset of Dry Eye, I would wake every day with a foreign body sensation in my eyes. It felt as if sand was imbedded in them. The feeling would cause me to blink like a maniac. My husband said my head bobbed with every blink. So with painful eyes, and a bobble head, I visited a Dry Eye specialist who sat me in front of a computer that tests blink rate. I found out I was a partial blinker, meaning when I blink my eyes don’t close completely. The condition even has a name: lagophthalmos. Who knew anyone could be a bad blinker?
It turns out the average person blinks 15 to 20 times per minute. That adds up to a lot of blinking throughout the day. With every blink, tear film in the eyes renews. Tear film consists of three layers: a mucus layer near the surface of the eye; a watery layer in the middle; and an oily layer on top that prevents the watery layer from evaporating. (Some research suggests that these layers aren’t completely separated).
Meibomian glands (pronounced my-bow-me-an) are tiny finger shaped glands in the eye lids. With every blink, they secrete the oil, known as meibum, through openings along the lid margin. At the same time, lacrimal glands — almond shaped glands beneath the outer corner of the eye brow — secrete the watery layer. The oily and watery layers spread across the ocular surface during the blink, lubricating the eyes. Tear film drains out through the tear ducts, carrying bacteria and other debris.
When the eyes need to, they automatically blink again, and the entire process repeats itself. A bad blinker, with a low blink rate or a partial blink, interrupts the delicate tear film cycle, reducing tear film production and leading to dryness.
Once I learned all of this, I understood how important it was for me to blink consciously, making sure I closed my eyes completely with each blink. I constantly struggle with this, but I’m determined to improve and stop being a bad blinker. You know how it is. You’re watching TV, talking the phone, or checking Facebook, and you catch yourself with that deer-in-the-headlights stare. Not good. Staring only makes things worse for a bad blinker.
Blinking exercises can improve what you secrete and how you blink. I’ve tried them, but I find it hard to remember to do them. It’s something you might discuss with your doctor. He or she might recommend one or more of these exercises to improve blinking and reduce dryness.
While I’m still a partial, bad blinker who blinks too much, I make a conscious effort to blink fully throughout the day. Maybe one day I’ll even be able to say “cheese” in front of a camera without my sunglasses. So here’s to blinking, the right way!
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