Many of us are guilty of rubbing our eyes, like when they’re itchy, irritated, tired, or dry. Rubbing your eyes can provide temporary relief and may feel good, but rubbing can cause damage to your eyes.
It’s typical for people to rub their eyes when they wake up. However, if you’re rubbing them throughout the day, you may want to visit your eye doctor.
An eye exam can help determine the issue that’s creating the desire to rub your eyes, ensure there is no damage to the eye, and address the problem with appropriate treatment.
Being informed of the harmful effects of eye rubbing and having tips to help prevent rubbing your eyes when you’re tempted can protect your eyes from potential injury.
Common Causes of Eye Rubbing
Rubbing your eyes can become second nature, and without addressing the root cause, continuing to do so can be harmful to the eyes. So what are the causes of eye rubbing?
Unaddressed allergies can cause itching and watery eyes that lead to eye rubbing. The more you rub your eyes, it accelerates the histamine response leading to more itching and more rubbing.
Blepharitis is an infection of the eyelids that causes inflammation and irritation. Symptoms of blepharitis include itching, swollen eyes, and crusty eyelashes from clogged oil glands.
Wearing the wrong fit, type, or material of contact lenses can cause irritation and itching, and lead to eye rubbing. Rubbing your eyes when wearing contact lenses can cause damage to the cornea (the transparent outer layer of the eye).
Dry Eye Disease
When your eyes don’t produce enough or quality tears, you can experience dry eye disease. Common symptoms include burning and grittiness.
Cold or Flu
The common cold, flu, or sinusitis can make your eyes itchy.
Eye strain from focusing on something for too long, such as at a computer screen, can cause eye fatigue, irritation, blurry vision, and itching.
Reasons Why Rubbing Your Eyes Is Bad
Rubbing your eyes can help spread tears across your eye’s surface and release oils from the glands in your eyelids. However, frequent eye rubbing with too much pressure can cause damage to the eye in the following ways:
Damage the Cornea
If there’s a foreign object in the eye, eye rubbing can cause a corneal abrasion, where the particles rub against and scratch the cornea. You can flush the foreign object with saline or artificial tears or see your eye doctor.
Hard eye rubbing, over time, can cause the cornea to thin, weaken, and bulge outward in a cone-like shape, causing keratoconus.
Introduce Eye Infections
Hands have germs and bacteria, so when you rub your eyes without washing them with soap and water, you can be more susceptible to infection, such as conjunctivitis.
Make Pre-Existing Conditions Worse
Eye rubbing can worsen your vision if you have progressive myopia (nearsightedness from a too-long eyeball).
The skin around the eyes is thinner than elsewhere on your body. Eye rubbing can break the delicate blood vessels in the skin under your eyes, causing bruising and the appearance of dark circles.
If you rub your eyes and notice the following symptoms, call or visit your eye doctor immediately:
- Eye pain
- Light sensitivity
- Reduced vision
- Blurry vision
- Redness or inflammation
Tips to Avoid Rubbing Your Eyes
Tips to help you avoid or stop rubbing your eyes can include treating the underlying causes to maintain comfort:
- Use saline, artificial tears, or eye drops to flush out foreign material that can cause irritation and itching.
- Use prescription medication to treat infections.
- Wash your hands with soap and water before touching your eyes. If you must rub, apply gentle pressure.
- Use antihistamines or steroid eye drops for treating allergies.
- Use a warm compress to relieve irritation.
- Treat dry eye disease with dry eye therapy.
- Take regular breaks from the screen and wear blue light-blocking eyewear to help with digital eye strain.
- Ensure you have the correct contact lenses by having regular contact lens exams and fittings.
You can also try to be more aware when you feel the urge to rub your eyes or use gloves or something to cover your fingers, making it more difficult to rub your eyes.
Relief from Eye Rubbing
Some gentle eye rubbing first thing when you wake up is usually normal. However, excessive eye rubbing due to an underlying cause or out of habit can damage your eyes and affect your vision.