Blinking Exercises And Massages for Chronic Dry Eye
Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last updated: July 2022
Chronic dry eye can be caused by many different things. This makes it difficult to diagnose and treat.
Evaporative dry eye accounts for 85 to 90 percent of all dry eye cases. In this type of dry eye, tears evaporate quicker than normal. This may be caused by a blockage or problem of the meibomian (“my-BOH-mee-an”) glands. The meibomian glands normally secrete the oily tear film layer, which helps to prevent tears from evaporating too quickly.1-3
Other causes of evaporative dry eye may include poor blinking, eyelid disorders, and environmental factors like low humidity and high wind.1-3
Treatment for dry eyes includes some therapies you may be able to do at home. Blinking exercises and eye massage may help relieve your dry eye symptoms.
What is meibomian gland dysfunction (MGD)?
Meibomian gland dysfunction (MGD) is blockage or some other abnormality of the meibomian glands. MGD leads to a decrease in the oily (lipid) layer of the tear film. This leads to rapid evaporation of tears and dry eyes.4
What is eye massage, and who needs it?
Eye or ocular massage is a therapeutic procedure that involves using a warm, moist compress and light pressure applied to your closed eyelids. This technique is thought to heat the dried or blocked meibomian glands, improving the flow of the oil needed for your tears. If you have MGD, this may be helpful.4
Various devices may also be used to perform the massage on your eyes. However, your doctor will operate these in their office.4
Blinking and dry eyes
Computer vision syndrome (CVS) is also known as digital eye strain. Digital eye strain results from staring at an electronic device, such as a computer, phone, tablet, or e-reader, for long periods. With the average American worker spending more than 7 hours per day using a computer either in the office or at home, it is easy to see why this is a common problem in the United States and worldwide.5
When viewing a digital screen, you blink less often. A study of 40 healthy people showed that blink rates decreased from 17 times per minute at rest to just 6 times per minute while reading on a digital screen. Blinking washes tears over the surface of the eye, keeping it moist and maintaining vision. When blinking decreases, dry eye symptoms can occur.6
Long drives and staring at the road for a long time may also cause tired or strained eyes.7
Think of blinking exercises as a type of yoga for the eyes. Your eyelids have muscles that need to be stretched and exercised, especially when you have a decreased blink rate from computers, digital screens, or long drives.8
Your eye care professional or doctor can guide you in the best practice for doing these exercises. The exercises involve closing your eyes and squeezing them tight for a few seconds, then releasing and relaxing.8
Do not go at it alone
Even though blinking exercises and eye massage can be performed at home, you should first see your eye doctor. If ocular massage is performed incorrectly, you can damage the surface of your eye.
Your doctor will perform a full eye exam, including figuring out the root cause of your dry eyes. They may suggest other techniques for managing your dry eye at home and easing your daily symptoms. If your doctor suspects that MGD may be contributing to your dry eye symptoms, you may need additional treatment.4