WHEN TO SEE YOUR DOCTOR
* Your contact lenses cause persistent rapid blinking.
* Your blinking is so frequent and forceful that your face contorts.
What Your Symptom Is Telling You
Blinking is like breathing: It goes on whether you're aware of it or not. Several times a minute, your lids are busy swishing away dust, keeping your eyes moist and comfortable.
This slow lid action gears up to a quick flutter if your eyes are threatened in any way—by a flying fist or a flash of light, for example. Constant blinking, however, can be an S.O.S. that your eyes are too dry or they've been invaded by a foreign body that won't flush out with normal blinking.
The irritating combination of dry eyes plus contact lenses can make you blink like a police car on the chase. Excessive blinking may be a reaction to a buildup of debris on the lenses.
Older people who have had a stroke or have Parkinson's disease can have a lid spasm that causes them to frequently squeeze their eyes shut forcefully, according to Douglas Fredrick, M.D., clinical instructor of ophthalmology at the University of California in San Francisco. This kind of spasm worsens with anxiety, he says, and may be accompanied by facial contortions.
Frequently, the key to ending excessive blinking is in keeping your eyes moist and protecting them from irritation. Consider the following.
Use fake tears. Artificial tears that mimic your own will help moisten eyes dried out from smoke, smog or other causes. (For more tips on dealing with dry eyes, see page 188.)
Give your lenses a bath. Contact lens wearers can keep their eyes moist by using a wetting agent, such as ReFresh P.M., throughout the day, says Dr. Fredrick. Look for wetting agents—and all other lens solutions—without preservatives. Preservatives can be irritating to sensitive eyes, he says.
Let your eyes wake up slowly. Allow your eyes to "breathe" for an hour before inserting contacts, suggests Mitchell H. Friedlaender, M.D., director of corneal services in the Division of Ophthalmology at the Scripps Clinic and Research Foundation in La Jolla, California, and coauthor of 20/20: A Total Guide to Improving Your Vision and Preventing Eye Disease. This will help give your eyes time to adjust to being awake and focused and may reduce discomfort, he says.
Consider breathable lenses. Gas-permeable lenses allow more oxygen to reach the eye than more rigid lenses and are less likely to suffocate and irritate the eye. Plus, they won't readily absorb irritating mucus and particles in the lens surface, says Dr. Friedlaender.
Look into disposable lenses. You wear them 'round the clock for a week. Then you toss them and insert a fresh pair, thereby eliminating the protein buildup problem of standard soft lenses. Before inserting the new pair, however, spend a night sleeping lensless, says Eleanor Faye, M.D., ophthalmologic surgeon at the Manhattan Eye, Ear and Throat Hospital. This lets your eyeballs breathe, she says. Do not try to clean these flimsy lenses, and never reinsert disposables.
Put in eye whiteners at bedtime. As you prepare for a lensless night, use a decongestant/antihistamine eyedrop, which your doctor can prescribe. It'll reduce itchiness and swelling and control contact lens sensitivity, says Dr. Faye. If you still have a problem with contact lenses, remove them and see your doctor as soon as possible.
Medicate the muscle. If your blinking is caused by an involuntary muscle spasm from a nervous system disorder, your doctor can prescribe a medication that controls the spasm, says Dr. Fredrick.