Some of us rub our eyes when we are tired, just waking up in the morning, suffering from a cold, or feeling the effects of dry eyes. It seems like a harmless activity, but is it?
Why you should avoid rubbing your eyes
There are numerous reasons to avoid rubbing your eyes. Some people rub them too hard or too often and it can lead to real problems, both minor and potentially major. Rubbing your eyes can cause tiny blood vessels to break, creating bloodshot eyes. Dark circles around your eyes can also be caused by rubbing, giving the appearance you are not getting enough sleep.
With the advent of COVID-19 pandemic, we have been reminded daily to avoid touching your face. The surface of your hands are host to plenty of germs from surfaces you’ve touched throughout your day. Unless you’ve just washed your hands properly with soap and water (for at least 20 seconds), or used a hand sanitizer with at least 70% alcohol you may transmit bacteria or viruses into your body by rubbing or touching your eyes, nose or mouth.
Another consideration is the possibility of getting something stuck in your eye. It’s easy to get an eyelash in your eye, and though it’s quite uncomfortable, it’s largely harmless. The real risk is getting something like fine sand or another abrasive material in your eyes that can actually scratch your cornea when you rub them.
For individuals with existing eye conditions, rubbing your eyes can actually cause your vision to worsen and in some cases cause permanent damage. Example: patients with glaucoma can restrict bloodflow to the back of the eye with the increased pressure from rubbing. This can cause nerve damage and result in permanent loss of sight.
Excessive eye rubbing is also suspected to cause corneal thinning. Thin corneas can make you a poor candidate for iLASIK or other correction surgeries as there is not enough corneal tissue for the surgeon to remove to correct your vision while leaving enough strong and healthy tissue post surgery.
There are many ways to avoid rubbing your eyes and they are worth taking a look at:
- If you suddenly develop red eyes, eye pain, or blurry vision, visit your optometrist or physician to get a proper diagnosis of your condition.
- If you get something in your eye, flush it with water instead of rubbing your eyes to create tears.
- If your eyes are dry, use eye drops. If they are chronically dry, consider Light Therapy Dry Eye Treatment.
- If you must rub your eyes, try to do so with freshly cleaned or sanitized hands.
- In the morning, instead of rubbing your eyes to remove sleep dust, jump in the shower and safely remove it there.
- If your eyes are itchy, it is likely as a result of touching them. Though it may seem difficult, avoid further rubbing. If they are chronically itchy of their own volition, see your optometrist or ophthalmologist.
Originally published February 2019, Updated April 10, 2020.