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Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci. 2009 Jun;50(6):2747-56. doi: 10.1167/iovs.08-2459. Epub 2009 Feb 14.

The contribution of lipid layer movement to tear film thinning and breakup.

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  • 1College of Optometry, Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio, USA.



To investigate whether the tear film thinning between blinks is caused by evaporation or by tangential flow of the tear film along the surface of the cornea. Tangential flow was studied by measuring the movement of the lipid layer.


Four video recordings of the lipid layer of the tear film were made from 16 normal subjects, with the subjects keeping their eyes open for up to 30 seconds after a blink. To assess vertical and horizontal stretching of the lipid layer and underlying aqueous layer, lipid movement was analyzed at five positions, a middle position 1 mm below the corneal center, and four positions respectively 1 mm above, below, nasal, and temporal to this middle position. In addition, in 13 subjects, the thinning of the tear film after a blink was measured.


The total upward movement could be fitted by the sum of an exponential decay plus a slow steady drift; this drift was upward in 14 of 16 subjects (P = 0.002). Areas of thick lipid were seen to expand causing upward or downward drift or horizontal movement. The velocity of the initial rapid upward movement and the time constant of upward movement were found to correlate significantly with tear film thickness but not with tear-thinning rate.


Analysis indicated that the observed movement of the lipid layer was too slow to explain the observed thinning rate of the tear film. In the Appendix, it is shown that flow under a stationary lipid layer cannot explain the observed thinning rate. It is concluded that most of the observed tear thinning between blinks is due to evaporation.

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