To Rub or Not to Rub? What You Need to Know about Rubbing Your Eyes
Maybe you have something in your eye. Perhaps you are dealing with allergies that are irritating your eyes. Possibly you just have a severe itch in or near your eyes. In any of these situations—and many others—you will likely feel a strong urge to rub your eyes. While rubbing your eyes can provide relief for itchiness or irritation, though, it is not advisable for eye health. Whenever possible, you should try to avoid rubbing your eyes.
Why Rubbing Your Eyes Feels Good
Before we delve into why rubbing your eyes is typically inadvisable, let’s talk for a minute about why it sometimes feels so good. Of course, if your eyes are feeling itchy, then rubbing them can relieve that itch. However, when you rub your eyes, you are also stimulating the creation of tears, which can help mitigate problems with dry, sore, itchy, or otherwise irritated eyes. Because you’re creating tears, rubbing your eyes can also seem a good way to flush dust or other debris out of your eyes. There’s even evidence to suggest that applying gentle pressure to your eyes can provide therapeutic, stress-relieving properties.
Why Rubbing Your Eyes Is Bad for You
All the benefits listed above have led many people to believe that rubbing of the eyes is, if not a good thing, then at least something that can’t be all bad. As a result, it’s not uncommon to see people rub their eyes when they first wake up in the morning, or at their desks at work when they are feeling stressed or getting back from a run and rubbing sweat out of their eyes. This gesture has become so familiar that we almost don’t notice it—or, at least, we didn’t always notice it before COVID-19 caused us all to think twice about touching our faces in any capacity.
Therein lies the first reason that rubbing of the eyes is something to be avoided. Touching your face risks transferring viral particles from your hands to your mouth, nose, or eyes, which can lead to contracting COVID-19 or other viruses. The danger of frequent touching of the eyes and face isn’t limited to viruses, either. Scientific estimates indicate that we typically have around 1,500 bacteria on every square centimeter of skin on our hands. That number is higher between the fingers and under the fingernails, meaning that every time you touch your face or rub your eyes, you are transferring a significant amount of bacteria to a place where it can do more damage. These transfers of bacteria increase your risk of bacterial eye infections (such as conjunctivitis).
Rubbing your eyes is risky for other reasons, too. Trying to use your fingers to remove a piece of debris from your eye (or any other foreign body) risks driving that foreign body deeper into your eye. If you rub your eyes to relieve itchiness or other effects of allergies, you may be making the problem worse by spreading the allergen particles around the surface of your eye.
Rubbing your eyes also runs the risk of damaging your corneas. In some cases, rubbing or itching your eyes may result in you accidentally scratching the corneal surface. Furthermore, if you develop a habit for regularly rubbing your eyes, you may be inadvertently causing the corneal surface to weaken, which can ultimately result in a condition called keratoconus.
If you already have an eye condition, there is a chance that rubbing your eyes will make it worseRubbing your eyes even has cosmetic consequences: pressure on the eye can cause blood vessels in and around the eye to burst, result in bloodshot eyes or dark circles around your eyes.
Get the Help You Need
At Miami Contact Lens Institute, we know how difficult it can be to break a chronic eye-rubbing habit. We’re here to help, whether that means coaching you on how to break your habit or providing other solutions (such as artificial tears or specialized contact lenses) to keep your eyes hydrated and minimize irritation. Contact us today to schedule an appointment.