Purpose: This study investigates the relationship between blinking, tear film break-up, and ocular symptoms for normal and dry eye subjects performing four different visual tasks.
Methods: Sixteen control and sixteen dry eye subjects performed four visual tasks (looking straight ahead, watching a movie, identifying rapidly changing letters, and playing a computer game) while blink patterns and fluorescein images of the tear film were videotaped. Pre and posttesting symptom questionnaires, querying the intensity of nine symptoms of ocular irritation, were completed by all subjects. Blink rate and blink amplitude were computed from digitized videos. The percentage of tear film break-up before the blink was calculated.
Results: Dry eye subjects had a significantly higher blink rate (p = 0.017, t-test). Both groups blinked significantly less during the game and letter tasks (p < 0.04, t-test). Partial blinks were common as were clusters or "flurries" of rapid blinks, but there was no significant difference in blink amplitude for control and dry eye subjects. Tear film break-up in normal subjects was typically inferior; whereas dry eye subjects showed more tear break-up centrally and superiorly. Real-time video recording of tear break-up and blink behavior pointed to complex interaction between the two. Dry eye subjects shifted more toward intense ocular symptoms at posttesting (p < 0.05, Wilcoxon signed rank) than controls. Both groups showed a shift toward more corneal staining at posttesting (p < 0.05, Wilcoxon signed rank), which was typically inferior.
Conclusions: Reduced and incomplete blinking along with increased tear film break-up during normal visual tasks may explain the increased level of ocular discomfort symptoms reported at the end of the day, particularly in dry eye patients.