How to Win a Staring Contest

How to Win a Staring Contest

by Brian Chou, OD, FAAO, FSLS

  • April 6, 2021

You just signed up to compete in a staring contest.  How do you win?  The world record for staring — not blinking once — is 57 minutes and 24 seconds, set by a Chinese naval serviceman in 2015. That is no easy feat!  The clear outer dome of the eye, or cornea, is the most sensitive part of the human body. When the cornea is exposed to the elements, it triggers the blink reflex. In fact, the average person blinks an estimated 15-20 times a minute. This reflex helps to keep the cornea moist and optically clear and clears away irritants. If the surface dries out or is unable to clear away an irritant, it can predispose the corneal tissue to infection and scarring.

Think about how difficult it is to hold your blink for an extended period, especially if your eye is exposed to noxious fumes or dust.

Certain eye conditions reduce blink rate

Certain abnormalities reduce blinking. For example, damage to the ophthalmic branch of the trigeminal nerve (cranial nerve V) can decrease reflex blinking. This branch of the trigeminal nerve normally provides sensation to the cornea.  One of the more common causes of damage to this nerve is herpes simplex keratitis — a corneal infection which can lead to dramatically reduced sensitivity of the cornea and reduced reflexive blinking.

Damage to the facial nerve (cranial nerve VII) can also interrupt the blink reflex.  Facial nerve damage can occur because of infection, trauma, or a space occupying mass. Bell’s palsy is a common dysfunction of the facial nerve, possibly caused by a viral infection. The result is an incomplete blink or even the inability to close the eye, known as lagophthalmos.

Nerve conditions that reduce blinking are often uncomfortable. Those suffering from herpetic keratitis and Bell’s palsy will take no solace knowing they may have a competitive advantage in winning a staring contest. Furthermore, most of these conditions are unilateral, which means that it affects just one eye. Winning a staring contest requires keeping both eyes open for an extended period.

Winning strategies

Keeping your eyes highly lubricated can help, but only temporarily. Artificial tears have a limited residence time on the eyes. It takes just seconds to minutes for most ocular lubricants to evaporate, causing corneal sensitivity. Instead, consider using Refresh Celluvisc or Refresh PM. The former has the consistency of honey whereas the latter is an oil-based ointment. Both have much longer residence times on the eye and will keep the eyes moist longer even though they notably smear up vision.

Topical anesthetic drops like tetracaine and proparacaine are another strategy to help reduce blinking.  These drops are used by eye doctors to reduce eye sensitivity to perform in-office procedures. These anesthetics last up to 15 minutes.  But these drops are normally used just in the office, not for home use. Indiscriminate and repeated use can lead to painful erosions of the cornea. If your staring contest does not prohibit using a topical anesthetic drop, that may be a strategy if your own eye doctor is supportive of you doing this.

Scleral contacts — an unfair advantage to win a staring contest

What is the secret weapon to win a staring contest? Scleral contact lenses. These special custom rigid surface lenses trap fluid against your eye, keeping the sensitive corneal surface moist and comfortable even if you do not blink. Often prescribed to rehabilitate vision for an eye disease called keratoconus, they are also used for extreme dry eye disease including Sjögren’s Syndrome. For patients with constant eye pain due to the eye surface drying out, scleral contact lenses can positively change lives.

Patients wearing scleral contact lenses often notice they do not need to blink as frequently, even with irritants in the air like dust, smoke, or chemical irritants including vapors from chopping onions. Additionally, if vision correction is needed, scleral lenses can do an exceptional job.

As a custom-caliber medical device, scleral lenses just to win a staring contest are probably cost-prohibitive except for the most competitive contest entrants.  Out-of-pocket fees for elective scleral lens prescribing can approach $3,000, which is why these lenses currently serve mostly patients with unusual eye diseases.  Even so, it does not appear as though many competitive staring contestants have sought guidance by an eye care professional.  If they do, the rule-makers of staring contests may smarten up and level the playing field by disallowing scleral lenses, ocular lubricants, and topical anesthetics.

To schedule an evaluation for scleral contact lens prescribing at ReVision Optometry, request an appointment today by clicking here.