Total Vision Seal Beach
Frontpage Hero
Blog Hero
Blog Hero

Can Rubbing Your Eyes Cause Damage?

Book Appointment
A man sitting at a desk rubbing his right eye with his fingers due to eye problems.

We’ve all experienced that irresistible urge to rub our eyes, whether it’s due to fatigue, irritation, or simply out of habit. And while rubbing your eyes may seem like an innocent action, it can actually lead to a host of eye problems. 

While rubbing your eyes may provide instant relief, it’s essential to consider the potential risks associated with this seemingly harmless act, including the risk of corneal abrasions, an impact on blood vessels, an increase in allergy symptoms, infection, an increase in eye pressure for those with glaucoma, and the potential progression of keratoconus.  

Most people rub their eyes quite a bit throughout their lives before realizing the potential risks. If you’re worried about your eyes, scheduling an eye exam with your eye doctor can give you peace of mind and excellent advice. 

The Delicate Structure of the Eyes

The eyes are complex organs with delicate structures, including the cornea, conjunctiva, and surrounding tissues. Rubbing your eyes vigorously can lead to increased pressure on these sensitive areas, potentially causing damage.

Ways Rubbing Your Eyes Can Cause Damage

Risk of Corneal Abrasions

The cornea, the transparent front part of the eye, is susceptible to scratches or abrasions. Rubbing your eyes with unwashed hands or using excessive force can introduce foreign particles or debris, leading to corneal abrasions

These abrasions may result in pain, redness, sensitivity to light, and even blindness in extreme cases.

Damage Blood Vessels

Rubbing your eyes can also put stress on the blood vessels around the eyes, causing them to break and result in bloodshot eyes. Chronic eye rubbing may contribute to the development of bloodshot eyes over time.

Increased Allergy Symptoms

Another concern is that rubbing your eyes can actually cause even more itching, especially if you have allergies. When you rub, you release histamines that exacerbate the itching sensation, leading to a habit-forming cycle of rubbing and scratching. When you rub your eyes, you’re likely to spread allergens, such as pollen or pet dander, leading to increased irritation and discomfort.

Instead of resorting to rubbing, use a cold compress or allergy eye drops specifically formulated for your allergies.

Risk of Eye Infections

Rubbing your eyes can also lead to the spread of germs and bacteria from your fingers to your eyes, resulting in eye infections like pink eye. This is particularly problematic for contact lens wearers as the risk of infection is already higher. 

To avoid contamination, always wash your hands thoroughly before touching your eyes. If your hands are not clean and you have an itch, use a clean tissue or cloth to gently dab your eyes.

Pressure Increase for Glaucoma 

Rubbing your eyes can increase eye pressure, particularly in those with glaucoma, which is a condition that causes damage to the optic nerve and can lead to blindness. Irritating or rubbing your eyes could cause damage to the optic nerve and result in further loss of vision. 

If you have glaucoma, make sure to discuss with your eye doctor the best way to relieve the itch without causing potential harm.

Potential for Keratoconus Progression

Rubbing your eyes can increase your chances of developing keratoconus, a condition that weakens the cornea. This can cause the cornea to bulge outwards and alter your vision. Some studies suggest that chronic eye rubbing may contribute to the progression of keratoconus.

While more research is needed to establish a definitive link, it highlights the importance of treating your eyes with care.

What to Do Instead of Eye Rubbing?

Instead of rubbing your eyes, consider treating the root cause of the issue to maintain comfort:

  • To flush out foreign material that can cause irritation and itching, use saline, artificial tears, or eye drops. 
  • To treat infections, use prescribed medications. 
  • To address allergies, use antihistamines or steroid eye drops.
  • To alleviate inflammation, apply a warm compress. To alleviate itching, try a cold compress.
  • Dry eye therapy can be used to help with chronic eye rubbing related to dry eyes.
  • To reduce digital eye strain, take frequent breaks from the screen.
  • Ensure you have the correct contact lenses by getting regular contact lens exams and fittings. 

Before touching your eyes, wash your hands with soap and water. If you must rub, use light pressure.

A male optometrist using a medical device to examine the eyes of a female patient and look for potential eye problems.

A Gentle Approach to Eye Care

While the occasional gentle rub may not cause severe harm, habitual and forceful eye rubbing poses potential risks to your eye health. Protecting your eyes involves practicing good hygiene, addressing underlying allergies, and being mindful of how you relieve eye discomfort. 

If you experience persistent eye irritation, it’s crucial to schedule a visit with your eye care professional at Seal Beach Eyes Optometry to determine the underlying cause and receive appropriate treatment.

Written by Total Vision

instagram facebook facebook2 pinterest twitter google-plus google linkedin2 yelp youtube phone location calendar share2 link star-full star star-half chevron-right chevron-left chevron-down chevron-up envelope fax