Welcome to the longest staring contest of your life. You’re about to go seven days without blinking. What device would keep your eyes forced open? How long would it take before the pain becomes unbearable? And why you might not be able to ever see again?
Blinking keeps your eyeballs lubricated and clear of particles. Without this reflex that happens about every four seconds, you’d have to deal with very dry, painful eyes. When you blink, you release a tear film that helps keep the surface of your eyeball smooth. This smooth surface It also allows light to properly focus so you don’t have blurry vision.
And since there are no blood vessels that reach your corneas, your eyes are dependent on this film for oxygen. Plus it contains enzymes that fight bacteria and prevent infection. So without blinking for a week, how soon would your eyes get blurry, dry and riddled with bacteria? For the next 168 hours, you wouldn’t be allowed to blink at all.
Forget about relying on willpower to beat this reflex. You’d need some serious help keeping those peepers peeled. How about a lid speculum? It might look like it belongs in a torture chamber, but this device is usually used for surgery. And it would be your best bet. Just place a ring under your upper and lower eyelid. Simple, right? Good luck trying to blink now. Start the countdown.
After just four seconds you’d be fighting off the natural instinct to blink. And oh, what a fight you’re in for. With no way to properly lubricate your eyes, they’d begin to dry out. Every second they would get redder and redder. This would be due to tiny blood vessels expanding on their surface. Once you take away that protective film of tears, your vision would blur as dust and particles settle in.
Your eyeballs would have an uneven surface. Light wouldn’t be able to pass through. You’d be in a real pickle now. More moisture would be evaporating from eyes than is being replenished. The burning would become a gritty, stinging feeling. And it’s going to get worse. You’d be absolutely desperate to blink now. It would feel like forever has passed, but it’s only been a few minutes.
So buckle up, the challenge ain’t over yet. To distract yourself, you could go out for a walk. Guess what? This would be a bad idea too. You’d have no way of protecting your eyes from the UV rays of the Sun. Totally exposed, this could burn your corneas and leave you temporarily blind for up to 48 hours. All you’d want to do now is get some sleep. Not so fast.
There’s a reason sleeping is nicknamed shut-eye. Of course, your eyes would need to close for that. Frustration combined with the exhaustion of insomnia would add to the already serious pain and discomfort you’d be experiencing. Hopefully, you’d be one of 20% of people who can sleep with their eyes open. With each passing minute the risk of infection would increase.
Your eyelids would be itching. You’d have mucus, oil and skin cells being discharged. I doubt that would relieve you in any way. You would also suffer from the lack of oxygen going to your corneas, leading to corneal hypoxia. It can be a common complication for people with contact lenses. But for you it’s yet another crisis to add to your list.
Your already manic-looking eyes would swell and, if left untreated, could result in the death of cells. This would lead to long-term damage. Through sheer will and determination you’d make it to the end of the week. Though you’d be miserable to say the least. You’d be swollen, in agony and essentially blind. A long road to recovery awaits you following this staring contest.
At the end of day seven you’d finally be allowed to blink, something you should have done over 100,000 times already. And that could be the most painful moment of all. You’d close your eyes and a week’s worth of dirt and grime would scratch over your corneas. With all the nerve endings they contain, this would be absolutely excruciating. If there’s one silver lining, you’d now finally be able to close your eyes to get some sleep.
- “Why Do We Blink?”. Tyler Santora. 2021. livescience.com.
- “How Many Times Do You Blink A Day — And Why?”. 2022. healthline.com.
- “Infrequent Blinking”. 2022. notadryeye.org.
- “Burning”. 2022. notadryeye.org.
- “Signs You Need Prescription Treatment For Chronic Dry Eye”. 2022. healthline.com.