How to Win a Staring Contest
BY KELLY K. NICHOLS, OD, MPH, PHD
A prominent men's magazine recently contacted me to provide scholarly support for an article on how to win a staring contest. My first thought was to laugh and decline politely, but after the editor asked several interesting and truly thought provoking questions, I agreed to help.
He first asked about the credibility of a self-proclaimed "staring contest expert" who claimed he could keep his eyes open unaided without blinking for 20 minutes. "Is this humanly possible?" the editor asked.
People Ask Crazy Questions
I had to stop and think about this question, not unlike some of the left-field questions patients often ask in the course of an examination related to issues such as contact lenses (what happens if you swallow one), vision (what color do dogs see), low vision (how does a telescope work) and ocular health (what happens to my eyes if I eat more fill-in-the-blank).
While collecting my thoughts, I concluded that my answer would be about dry eye and maintaining a healthy ocular surface.
How Often Do We Blink?
This seemingly simple question doesn't have a simple answer. I told the editor that people blink approximately 10 to 15 times each minute. I've seen data with blink rates varying between six and 23 times per minute (slower with intense activities, such as reading, and faster with animation, such as excited conversation). On top of that are triggers to blinking such as irritation or dryness of the ocular surface, environmental factors and other health-related factors. Given this, 10 to 15 times per minute seemed a reasonable compromise.
Recent research in this area is expanding to include the impact of font size, computer monitor location, disease status and other visual content.
Staying on Message
Realizing the importance of staying "on message," we next discussed factors associated with dry eye including medications, age and female gender. The editor asked about adequate hydration and if we could do anything to prevent dry eye.
When the topic of contact lenses vs. glasses came up, he asked whether wearing contact lenses would be good or bad in a staring contest. While contact lenses may be associated with dry eye symptoms, would wearing contact lenses during forced eye opening let someone keep their eyes open longer or result in a more frequent blink? Certainly glasses could protect the eyes from environmental conditions that could induce a blink, but as to choosing contact lenses or glasses in a staring contest, it may be a wash.
Tips to Win a Staring Contest
I was encouraged by the process this editor went through to find out real information about a seemingly whimsical story. At the end of our discussion, he said "This topic is much more interesting than I thought. I learned something." I realized that whether we talk with a magazine editor, a neighbor, a student or a patient, we always have the opportunity (and the responsibility) to impart a positive eye care message. In concluding our discussion, I requested that the importance of comprehensive eye care be part of the piece as my final message.
Following are the tips the editor ultimately penned to win a staring contest:
Focus on a small detail on your opponent's face.
Try to minimize eye movement, which could induce a blink.
Wear glasses to minimize drafts to the eyes.
If you have enough lead time, consider omega fatty acid supplementation.
For lens wearers, wear a fresh pair of soft lenses or use rewetting drops an hour before the event.
Buy your opponent a drink beforehand.
Don't crack under pressure!
Dr. Nichols is an associate professor at The Ohio State University College of Optometry in the area of dry eye research.