Person's eye
There is a world of cues in a person's blinking: It could serve as signs of their physical well-being, as well as psychological implications for communication. Image Credit:

Every blink is like a secret tap on your body. But unlike Morse code, these taps aren't just letters - they're messages about your health. Excessive blinking, slow blinking, the half-blink: Your eyes are sending messages to you.

Blinking isn’t just a reflex for when you’re bored. "It is a normal physiological function to keep the eyes moistened and also protects the eyes them from foreign particles, and distribute tears evenly across the surface of the eyes," explains Toni S. Zink, Family Medicine Specialist, Nabta Healthcare.

While occasional blinking is a natural and unconscious process, changes in blinking patterns or habits may provide insights into your health.

Blinking and your health: When blinking goes rogue

Person blinking
Excessive blinking or rapid eye blinking can be a sign of eye strain, which may occur due to prolonged use of digital screens, reading in poor lighting, or focusing on close objects for extended periods. Image Credit: Shutterstock

Normally, we blink about 15 times a minute without even noticing. However, if you find your blinking going rather rogue, there’s a problem that needs to be addressed.

There could be several reasons behind this, including bright lights, sleepiness, allergies or something in your eyes. Your blinking reflexes get over-stimulated, explains Rebecca Law, a Dubai-based family physician. Stress, anxiety, or nervousness can also manifest as increased blinking or eye twitching. These involuntary movements may be more noticeable during periods of heightened stress or emotional tension, adds Zink. 

Stress, anxiety, or nervousness can manifest as increased blinking or eye twitching. These involuntary movements may be more noticeable during periods of heightened stress or emotional tension...

- Toni S. Zink, Family Medicine Specialist, Nabta Healthcare

There could be other reasons too, perhaps an ingrown eyelash that irritates the eyeball. This results in a corneal abrasion that causes excessive blinking and watering, says Law. Allergies can also cause your eyes to itch, which leads to the roughening of the conjunctiva, a thin, clear membrane that covers the inner surface of the eyelid and the white part of the eyeball.

However, there’s more to blink malfunctions than rogue eyelashes. It can be the sign of far more serious diseases, including Blepharospasm, or Sjogren’s syndrome, an autoimmune disease.

As the experts explain, excessive blinking becomes an actual problem if it affects your daily functioning, and is accompanied by other worrying symptoms such as numbness, weakness in the body, disorientation, sudden headaches, nausea and other muscular symptoms.


A disease condition that causes rapid and involuntary blinking, blepharospasm is caused by abnormal nervous stimulation, explains Natasha Carter, a Dubai-based ophthalmologist. As a result, there’s a spasmodic contraction of the ocular muscles without any obvious cause. The symptoms include twitching of the eyelids, a feeling of heaviness around the eyes, drooping of the eyelids, swelling around the eyes, dry eyes, and excessive sensitivity to bright light or sunshine. The symptoms become further exacerbated when a person is fatigued, suffering from anxiety, or is subjected to bright light, wind or dust, she says.

Tourette’s syndrome:

Tourette Syndrome (TS) is an affliction of the nervous system. It leads to people having ‘tics’. These are sudden twitches, movements, or sounds that people do repeatedly, and they’re unable to prevent it from happening. For instance, blinking, adds Law.

Slow, infrequent blinking: A sign of a neurological condition

Slow blinking could be the earliest sign of a neurological issue, explains Carter.

One of the first signs of Parkinson’s Disease, is slow blinking. According to a 2012 study titled Case-control study of blink rate in Parkinson's disease under different conditions, published in the Journal of Neurology, a crucial neurotransmitter that influences our ability to pay attention and show flexibility is dopamine. The rate at which we spontaneously blink, is a reflection of the neurotransmitter’s activity in the brains. As the dopamine is lowered, according to the study, the more we fixate on a certain subject. And so, we blink less frequently. The trademark of Parkinson’s, is the loss of dopamine-producing nerve cells.

When a person blinks normally, there is equal redistribution of the tears on the surface, says Medha Ramaswamy, a Dubai-based family physician. When the blink rates are slowed down in Parkinson’s disease, the tears evaporate rapidly and the vision deteriorates.

People suffering from Graves Disease, also see changes in their blinking pattern, as researched in the 2010 international study Spontaneous blinking in patients with Graves' upper eyelid retraction, which is related to cornea damage.

Graves Disease
Graves Disease is an immune system disorder that results in the overproduction of thyroid hormones (hyperthyroidism). One of the common symptoms of Graves Disease is bulging eyes, and frequent eyelid movement

Other neurological conditions besides Parkinson’s, such as a stroke, can also decrease the normal blinking rate, says Ramaswamy. Slower blinking has also been associated with head injury among athletes, according the to the 2017 study Blink reflex parameters in baseline, active, and head-impact Division I athletes, published the US-based academic issue, Cogent Engineering.

The secret language of blinks: Feedback for conversation

Two people talking
You can actually be encouraged or discouraged by the way a person blinks in a conversation. Image Credit: Shutterstock

Sure, the way you blink is a clear sign of your health. However, there’s more to blinking than meets the eye. Over the years, scientists have attached more meanings to blinks that have nothing to do with maintaining the moisture in the eyes. “Blinking holds cues to conversations, just like nodding,” explains Rhea Aidasani, a Dubai-based psychologist. It acts as conversational feedback, as shown in the 2018 study published in Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in the Netherlands.

For this experiment, researchers developed a new, virtual reality-based experimental set-up where humans talk with an avatar that acts as a ‘virtual listener’. The volunteers answered questions such as "How was your weekend?", while researchers controlled the avatar's nonverbal responses, using short and long blinks that each lasted less than a second. The experiment showed the nuanced difference between short and long blinks, with longer blinks eliciting substantially shorter answers from the volunteers. These findings proved that even subtle behaviour such as blinking serves as non-verbal type of communication.

“You can actually be encouraged or discouraged by the way a person blinks in a conversation,” says Aidasani “There are different kinds of long blinks - the annoyed, tired and impatient ones that can end a conversation then and there. A person doesn’t even have to say anything,” she says.

In fact, studies show that we blink more, when we experience a higher cognitive load than compared to when our brain is less stressed. In fact, Aidasani says, a high blink relate can symbolise a disengagement of attention.

This was established in the study, titled Consideration of three types of spontaneous eyeblink activity in normal humans, published in the US National Library of Medicine, spontaneous blinking occurs at different break points of attention. This could include the end of a sentence while reading, a pause by a speaker while listening to a speech, various points while watching videos. These blinks play a crucial role in the release of attention from external forces, while engaging in cognitive tasks, according to the study.

Some of the interesting points that the study raised was that people blinked when listening during a conversation, rather than blinking randomly. We tend to blink at the end of sentences and at points when we believe the speaker may have finished what they are saying.

Aidasani also points that there are the “reassuring” kind of blinks, that a person can offer to another for comfort. “It can also be a sign of compassion. There’s so much that you can communicate with just blinks,” she concludes.