Blink Once for Dry Eye, Blink Twice for Eye Health Research

Video-centered Campaign Puts Blinking in the Spotlight

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By Catherine Wolinski: Assistant Editor

As eyecare practitioners face the day-to-day challenges that accompany patient care and communication, an international nonprofit organization called the Tear Film & Ocular Surface Society (TFOS) is tackling a unique, universal problem—reminding individuals to blink their eyes. As an accompaniment to Dry Eye Awareness Month in July, the organization launched a year-long global campaign titled “Blink Around the World,” drawing attention to the global problem of dry eye and blinking inhibition.




  Italian pop singer Sabrina created a music single with TFOS, “Blink Around the World,” available on Amazon.com or iTunes to aid in eye health research.

The initiative was spearheaded by TFOS executive director Amy Gallant Sullivan, who has partnered with eye doctors, researchers, scientists and even an Italian pop star to get the campaign off the ground and around the globe.

“We want everyone around the world to understand it’s important to blink,” said Sullivan. “So many people are affected by dry eye, whether by their smartphones, wrinkle cream or contact lenses. It’s a fun way of generating that message and offering creative ways to get people to think about their eyes.”

According to TFOS, approximately 20 million to 40 million people live with dry eye in the U.S., with Europe close behind and Asia recording nearly double the number of sufferers.

Mirroring the essence of blinking, participation in the campaign involves a simple task that is both visually centered and brief—individuals are called upon to submit a five-second video, in which they can be seen blinking at a prominent location around the world.






The campaign launched with a YouTube video calling for 5-second video recordings of blinks in global locations.
The initiative kicked off with an immediate online presence, including a “teaser” video viewable on the TFOS YouTube channel depicting facts about visual impairment and blinking, announcements via the TFOS Twitter account run by Sullivan (@EYEPPL) as well as the use of a Blink Around the World hashtag (#BlinkAroundtheWorld), and activity on Facebook.

At presstime, members of TFOS and the public posted 55 videos from continent-spanning locations including major cities like New York, London and Beijing, along with more remote locations like the mountains of Switzerland, Thailand and the Grand Canyon in Utah.

Along with international video submitters, the “social global campaign,” as Sullivan called it, has also attracted the attention and support of prominent eye doctors and industry members who have been “very excited to participate and share with their patients,” she said.

Debra Schaumberg, ScD, OD, MPH, a founding member of the Medical and Scientific Advisory Board of TFOS, has participated in the campaign by contributing video footage as well as providing input to Sullivan emphasizing the prevalence of dry eye and its preventability.

“Dry eye is a global problem and treatment is an unmet need,” said Schaumberg, who is also associate director for Clinical & Epidemiologic Research at the University of Utah. She also pointed out the ever increasing dependence on computer screens and other technology, is a major cause of dry eye, visual discomfort and other vision problems.


 Debra Schaumberg, ScD, OD, MPH, a TFOS member, sent in blinks from the Grand Canyon.
“People tend to blink at a much less frequent rate while using electronic devices—we all know how attached we’ve all become to those—and this may contribute to people’s sensation of ocular discomfort and fluctuating vision,” said Shaumberg. “While it won’t cure dry eye disease, blinking more frequently could help some people feel more comfortable, especially when performing tasks requiring sustained visual attention.”


 
 
 
 
 The initiative has inspired video submissions from all around the world.
Another campaign supporter, and lifelong advocate of blinking, is Dr. Donald Korb, an optometrist who has been more than influential in the arena of eye health for over 40 years and was one of the 2013 Optometric Business Innovators in VM’s June report. Korb’s devotion to blinking awareness—a concept, he admits, is hard for many to grasp—can be measured in published studies, inventions of contact lenses and cofounding TearScience, a blinking instrument.

“I am one of the individuals in the world who has been publishing for years on blinking,” said Korb, who, in 1994, published the first paper which “quantified” what a blink is. In an upcoming study now in review, Korb and his research team will be presenting “clear data that shows the primary reason for developing dry eye in the new generation of video users, students on computers and workforce people shackled to their screens,” he said.

Korb believes the Blink Around the World campaign is not only important, but critical. “The effort of blinking could well be the most important and effective treatment for dry eye throughout the world. Sullivan and TFOS are doing a remarkable job,” he said.

Kelly K. Nichols, OD, MPH, PhD, FERV professor at The Ocular Surface Institute, University of Houston in Houston, Texas, also expressed her support of Sullivan’s venture.

“The Blink Around the World campaign is a creative way to showcase beautiful eyes all around the world and assist in the TFOS’ efforts to promote ocular health and translational research in ocular surface disease,” said Nichols. “TFOS membership is global, and thus Blink Around the World represents optometrists, ophthalmologists and everyone providing eyecare around the globe. It’s really all about increasing awareness about eyecare to help those who need it most.”

For Sullivan, the focus right now is on “collecting blinks” and increasing visibility for eye health research needs.

“Blink Around the World is a fun and catchy way to remind people to blink their eyes, which both exercises and protects this preciously vital organ. It’s really fun for us, too,” Sullivan said. ■


cwolinski@jobson.com