Rubbing your eyes may seem like a relatively harmless thing to do. Most of us do it regularly, whether we are suffering from hay fever or a common cold, or are just feeling tired and groggy. Rubbing stimulates tears to flow, lubricating dry eyes and removing dust and other irritants.
Rubbing your eyes can also be therapeutic. Pressing down on your eyeball can stimulate the vagus nerve, which slows down your heart rate, relieving stress.
However, if you rub your eyes too often or too hard, you can cause damage in a number of ways …
What damage can be caused?
- To start with, rubbing your eyes can play havoc with your appearance! It causes tiny blood vessels to break, resulting in blood-shot eyes and those dark, unsightly circles that everyone is always trying to avoid.
- Your hands carry more germs than any other part of your body. When you rub your eye, these germs are easily transferred and can often result in infections like conjunctivitis. Find out more about conjunctivitis.
- Sometimes people get a foreign body stuck in their eye and the natural instinct is to rub it to try and remove the object. This is not a good idea as rubbing against the object can very easily scratch the cornea.
- Rubbing is most dangerous to people with certain pre-existing eye conditions. People with progressive myopia (a type of short-sightedness cause by a lengthened eyeball) may find that rubbing worsens their eyesight. Similarly, those with glaucoma may find that the spike in eye pressure caused by rubbing the eyes can disrupt blood flow to the back of the eye and lead to nerve damage, and, ultimately, permanent loss of vision.
- Most worryingly, studies have shown that continuous eye rubbing in susceptible individuals can also lead to thinning of the cornea, which is weakened and pushes forward to become more conical. This is known as keratoconus, and is a serious condition that can lead to distorted vision and ultimately the need for a corneal graft. Read more about keratoconus.
How do I stop?
If something is stuck in your eye, attempt to flush it out with sterile saline or artificial tears. If this doesn’t work, head straight to your doctor.
The best ways to prevent yourself from touching your eye area is to use eye drops to keep your eyes hydrated and prevent itching. Artificial tears are a non-medicated yet highly sophisticated imitation of natural tears. They are available over the counter and are beneficial to anyone experiencing dry eyes. Other eye drops are available to prevent the itch that causes eye rubbing. These drops are called anti-histamines and mast cell stabilisers. In more severe cases, steroid eye drops are also used to prevent chronic eye rubbing, especially in allergy sufferers.
Excessive eye rubbing, whether due to chronic dryness, itchiness, or merely habit, should be addressed to avoid unpleasant consequences.
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