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why you shouldnt rub your eyes

Rubbing your eyes when tired, or upon waking up is perfectly normal – and it feels pretty darn good sometimes. Unfortunately, too much rubbing can be bad for your eyes and your vision. 

Eye rubbing on and off throughout the day is a sign that something needs to be addressed. In the meantime, the very act of rubbing your eyes may provide temporary physical relief, while simultaneously causing further damage. 

If you find you are rubbing your eyes more than just once or twice per day, contact your eye doctor and schedule an appointment. We’ll help you figure out why you’re experiencing the urge to rub your eyes, and how to support the cause. 

Some of the most common causes of constant eye rubbing include: 

  • Unaddressed allergies 
  • Sleep disturbances or insomnia 
  • Contact lens irritation 
  • Vision issues that need correction 
  • The wrong vision prescription 
  • Dry eye 
  • Blepharitis (infected or irritated eyelids, styes) 
  • Having a cold or flu 

Once we know why you are rubbing your eyes, we can help you find relief and proper treatment, if necessary. 

7 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Rub Your Eyes 

Here are 7 reasons why you shouldn’t rub your eyes:

It can scratch the cornea

If your eye has something in it, even the smallest particulate matter, the act of rubbing your eyes is like sandpaper on a piece of wood. The scary thing is that unlike the feeling of rough and abrasive sandpaper, your eyes don’t always feel the microabrasions caused when microparticles are rubbed back and forth across the eye’s surface. Ironically, during the act of rubbing your eyes, the fingers and hands transfer even more small particulate matter into your eye, compounding the problem. 

Over time, chronic eye rubbing causes micro-scratches on the cornea, and those small scratches accumulate to cause serious damage. In the beginning, a scratched cornea may cause eye-watering, redness, and light sensitivity. If the damage becomes worse, the cornea can become infected or develop scar tissue. In worst-case scenarios, severe cornea scratches lead to permanent vision problems.  

Thinning of the cornea

The cornea is the outermost lens of the eye. It works by controlling the amount of light that enters the eye and then focusing that light to create a clear image. Perfect vision requires a healthy cornea, with a healthy network of collagen fibers that maintain its spherical shape. The more you rub your eyes, the more that corneal surface is abraded, which breaks down the collagen fiber network.  

The cornea can become thin and may also begin to change shape, bulging out to form more of a cone shape than a round one. This condition is called keratoconus and is typically the result of genetics, oxidative stress, or eye disease. However, we’ve had patients with keratoconus caused by excessive eye rubbing. 

Eye infections can occur when you rub your eyes

As you can imagine, a scratched or thin membrane makes the eye more prone to infections, including fungal infection. While the eye has an amazing series of protective measures in place – eyebrows, lower and upper eyelashes, and a moist flushing system activated every time you blink – it is not immune to infections. 

If your eyes are inflamed and scratched, or if the “wrong” bacteria transfer from your hands to your eyes, there’s a higher risk of eye infection. This is one of the reasons we are so serious about not rubbing your eyes after LASIK surgery. 

Some of the most common bacterial infections that occur from hand-to-eye contamination result from staphylococcus, streptococcus, salmonella, and E. coli. Fungal infections are also a possibility. Practice hand washing as regularly as possible, and make a conscientious effort to wash your hands with warm, soapy water – and then dry them – before rubbing your eyes.

It will lead to continuous, dark(er) circles

Are you prone to dark circles under or around your eyes? While genetics certainly play a role, as can certain medications, anemia, and age, dark circles are most commonly a side effect of poor sleep habits and/or fatigue. And, while it may feel satisfying to give your eyes a good rub to soothe them and release a new, moist, batch of tears – rubbing exacerbates dark circles. 

The tissue around the eyes is thinner than the skin on almost anywhere else on your body, and the delicate skin has equally delicate blood vessels right underneath. When you rub your eyes, those tiny capillaries and veins break very easily, and this causes bruising that makes dark eye circles even worse.

It can worsen glaucoma

Glaucoma is the leading cause of vision loss. While it can emerge at any age, it is most often seen in patients 35-years and older. Even though glaucoma affects the optic nerve at the back of the eye, it is treated by relieving excessive pressure in the inner-eye.  

The act of rubbing your eyes puts pressure on the inner, fluid-filled chamber (called the vitreous cavity). Studies have shown that rubbing the eyes causes rather severe fluctuations in pressure inside the eye, and this is the direct opposite of what we want to achieve to relieve pressure, so it can make glaucoma worse.

Increases histamine levels

Histamines are released to help your body fight inflammation responses, especially those caused by allergies. Unfortunately, the histamine response can go into overdrive during allergy season, making allergy symptoms even worse than they need to be.  

If you suffer from allergy-related itchy eyes, or you have a common cold, you may find yourself rubbing your eyes more than normal – and this can accelerate the histamine response. While the relief experienced during the eye rubbing session can feel immensely satisfying, you’ll experience worse discomfort within seconds or minutes of rubbing your eyes because even more histamines are released. 

Over-the-counter artificial tears can help you consistently flush allergens out of the eyes, which can relieve itching and inflammation. Speak to your doctor about your options and explore several different treatment methods. Different bodies respond differently to over-the-counter allergy medications, so it might take a bit of trial and error to find the one that works for you.

Loosening skin and wrinkles

Remember above, we mentioned that one of the reasons you shouldn’t rub your eyes is to reduce dark circles? That same delicate skin around the eyes can be stretched out by continuous rubbing, which stretches and loosens the skin – and that leads to wrinkles.  

Do you find yourself rubbing your eyes multiple times a day? Give your eyes a break by scheduling an eye appointment with your optometrist or ophthalmologist. To start, we can “see you” by scheduling a virtual Telemedicine appointment. If your answers and comments seem as if there is a treatable eye issue, we will schedule an in-person appointment to find a solution.

We’re Here For You

Contact us here at the Atlantic Eye Institute and tell us what’s troubling your eyes. (904) 241-7865. 

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