The effect of ocular surface conditions on blink rate and completeness

Roshani, Shila (2011) The effect of ocular surface conditions on blink rate and completeness. Masters by Research thesis, Queensland University of Technology.


A healthy human would be expected to show periodic blinks, making a brief closure of the eyelids. Most blinks are spontaneous, occurring regularly with no external stimulus. However a reflex blink can occur in response to external stimuli such as a bright light, a sudden loud noise, or an object approaching toward the eyes. A voluntary or forced blink is another type of blink in which the person deliberately closes the eyes and the lower eyelid raises to meet the upper eyelid.

A complete blink, in which the upper eyelid touches the lower eyelid, contributes to the health of ocular surface by providing a fresh layer of tears as well as maintaining optical integrity by providing a smooth tear film over the cornea. The rate of blinking and its completeness vary depending on the task undertaken during blink assessment, the direction of gaze, the emotional state of the subjects and the method under which the blink was measured. It is also well known that wearing contact lenses (both rigid and soft lenses) can induce significant changes in blink rate and completeness. It is been established that efficient blinking plays an important role in ocular surface health during contact lens wear and for improving contact lens performance and comfort. Inefficient blinking during contact lens wear may be related to a low blink rate or incomplete blinking and can often be a reason for dry eye symptoms or ocular surface staining.

It has previously been shown that upward gaze can affect blink rate, causing it to become faster. In the first experiment, it was decided to expand on previous studies in this area by examining the effect of various gaze directions (i.e. upward gaze, primary gaze, downward gaze and lateral gaze) as well as head angle (recumbent position) on normal subjects’ blink rate and completeness through the use of filming with a high-speed camera. The results of this experiment showed that as the open palpebral aperture (and exposed ocular surface area) increased from downward gaze to upward gaze, the number of blinks significantly increased (p<0.04). Also, the size of closed palpebral aperture significantly increased from downward gaze to upward gaze (p<0.005). A weak positive correlation (R² = 0.18) between the blink rate and ocular surface area was found in this study. Also, it was found that the subjects showed 81% complete blinks, 19% incomplete blinks and 2% of twitch blinks in primary gaze, consistent with previous studies. The difference in the percentage of incomplete blinks between upward gaze and downward gaze was significant (p<0.004), showing more incomplete blinks in upward gaze. The findings of this experiment suggest that while blink rate becomes slower in downward gaze, the completeness of blinking is typically better, thereby potentially reducing the risk of tear instability. On the other hand, in upward gaze while the completeness of blinking becomes worse, this is potentially offset by increased blink frequency. In addition, blink rate and completeness were not affected by lateral gaze or head angle, possibly because these conditions have similar size of the open palpebral aperture compared with primary gaze.

In the second experiment, an investigation into the changes in blink rate and completeness was carried out in primary gaze and downward gaze with soft and rigid contact lenses in unadapted wearers. Not surprisingly, rigid lens wear caused a significant increase in the blink rate in both primary (p<0.001) and downward gaze (p<0.02). After fitting rigid contact lenses, the closed palpebral aperture (blink completeness) did not show any changes but the open palpebral aperture showed a significant narrowing (p<0.04). This might occur from the subjects’ attempt to avoid interaction between the upper eyelid and the edge of the lens to minimize discomfort. After applying topical anaesthetic eye drops in the eye fitted with rigid lenses, the increased blink rate dropped to values similar to that before lens insertion and the open palpebral aperture returned to baseline values, suggesting that corneal and/or lid margin sensitivity was mediating the increased blink rate and narrowed palpebral aperture.

We also investigated the changes in the blink rate and completeness with soft contact lenses including a soft sphere, double slab-off toric design and periballast toric design. Soft contact lenses did not cause any significant changes in the blink rate, closed palpebral aperture, open palpebral aperture and the percentage of incomplete blinks in either primary gaze or downward gaze. After applying anaesthetic eye drops, the blink rate reduced in both primary gaze and downward gaze, however this difference was not statistically significant. The size of the closed palpebral aperture and open palpebral aperture did not show any significant changes after applying anaesthetic eye drops. However it should be noted that the effects of rigid and soft contact lenses that we observed in these studies were only the immediate reaction to contact lenses and in the longer term, it is likely that these responses will vary as the eye adapts to the presence of the lenses.

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ID Code: 46262
Item Type: QUT Thesis (Masters by Research)
Supervisor: Collins, Michael & Shaw, Alyra
Keywords: blinking, blink rate, inter-blink interval, blink completeness, closed palpebral aperture, open palpebral aperture, exposed ocular surface area, position of gaze, eyelids, soft sphere contact lens, soft toric contact lens, rigid lens (RGP), anaesthetic eye drops
Divisions: Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Faculty of Health
Current > Institutes > Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation
Current > Schools > School of Optometry & Vision Science
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Deposited On: 29 Sep 2011 06:05
Last Modified: 29 Sep 2011 06:06

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