Blinking is an involuntary act designed to clean the cornea and keep the eye moist by keeping tears evenly distributed. Children blink an average of 12 to 20 times per minute. Several factors contribute to excessive blinking, including stress, habit, brain damage and medical disorders. Treatment of excessive blinking depends on the cause.
The majority of excessive blinking cases can be traced to the child developing a habit. Boredom, stress and fatigue all contribute to excessive eye blinking. Once the habit develops, the child may not notice how often he blinks.
Excessive blinking can be part of a tic disorder. Tic disorders, including Tourette’s Syndrome, produce physical tics, or repetitive motions that involve complex motor and vocal actions. Excessive eye blinking is a common tic with Tourette’s Syndrome along with throat clearing and arm or leg movements. A tic and a habit can look very similar; however, a child with a tic disorder typically has several tics, not just one. Nervous tics can also prompt excessive blinking. Nervous tics generally self-resolve in two to three months and are not combined with other complex vocal and motor movements.
An injury to the cornea can also be the cause of excessive blinking in children. A scratched cornea or a small foreign object caught under the eyelid will produce the involuntary blinking in an effort to dislodge the object or soothe the scratch. An offending object as small as a speck of dust can irritate the eye enough to cause increased blinking.
Treatment for excessive eye blinking depends on the cause. When the blinking is caused by a newly formed habit, not drawing attention to it is the best course of action. A child who displays excessive eye blinking along with other tics, such as throat clearing, repeating words he hears or jerking legs and arms, should be evaluated by a pediatrician for a possible tic disorder. Treating a scratched cornea usually takes care of excessive blinking due to injury. A doctor will perform a saline flush to the eye and place a patch to be worn for several days until the cornea heals.
When no obvious cause of excessive eye blinking is determined at home, an evaluation by professionals is in order. The evaluation will include a complete medical history, a discussion about when the blinking started and how often it happens, an eye exam to rule out ocular problems and a physical examination. In rare cases, excessive blinking is caused by a brain injury or seizure disorder. If this is the case, your child will be referred to a pediatric neurologist for further investigation and treatment.