Blinking is a normal response to light, dryness, or irritation, or a reaction that protects the eye from foreign objects. Newborns blink only about twice a minute, but older children normally blink 14 to 17 times per minute. Excessive blinking is not normal, but in most cases, the cause is not serious. Eye irritation or strain, or temporary, repetitive behaviors are common causes. Infrequently this blinking is due to an ongoing condition that requires evaluation.
Irritation or Eye Strain
If your child starts blinking frequently, first assess if there is something irritating his eyes. Allergies, smoke or dry air can prompt your child to blink more often, in order to regulate tears which soothe and clean the eye surface. Sometimes the blinking is caused by a scratch on the eye, ingrown eyelash or an eye infection. Exposure to bright lights, too much screen time, or reading for extended periods of time can also lead to eye strain, squinting or frequent blinking.
Nearsightedness, or trouble seeing faraway objects, may cause your child to squint, rub his eyes often or complain of blurry vision or headaches. In some cases, nearsightedness causes watering of the eyes, which may lead to excessive blinking. Misalignment of the eyes, or strabismus, can also cause squinting or excessive blinking. Rarely, blepharospasm, which is an abnormal, involuntary blinking or spasm of the eyelids, affects children.
Repetitive Behaviors or Tics
Repetitive behaviors are common in children, and excessive blinking can be one of them. These behaviors may be triggered by anxiety or stress, but sometimes there is no clear cause. Most of the time, these behaviors disappear in time, and the best thing parents can do, as long as there is no injury or obvious irritant, is to avoid focus on it. Less frequently, excessive blinking may be caused by Tourette Syndrome, a condition that causes children to have involuntary motor or vocal tics. This syndrome typically starts between the ages of 5 and 10, and the tics tend to be worse when a child is excited or under stress.
If your child starts blinking excessively, check for signs of eye injury or infection, or observe the situations that trigger the blinking to help determine the cause. If you suspect injury, infection, or visual problems are triggering the blinking, have your child see his pediatrician, or if indicated, an optometrist. Also let his pediatrician know if the excessive blinking persists or if your child develops a persistent headache or a change in vision.
Reviewed by Kay Peck, MPH RD
- Paediatrics Child Health: Paediatric Ophthalmology: Things That Do Not Require Referral
- American Academy of Ophthalmology: Forceful, Excessive Blinking in a 6-Year-Old
- American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus: Excessive Blinking in Children
- National Institute of Health: National Eye Institute: Facts About Blepharospasm
- American Academy of Opthalmology: What is Strabisumus?