Rubbing your eyes is almost instinctive—when your eyes are dry, tired, or irritated, it can be an automatic reflex. And while you may feel relief initially, it can cause harmful effects. Rubbing your eyes is not recommended, as it can raise your risk of developing further eye irritation, infections, premature aging, and keratoconus.
Whether you’re experiencing chronic digital eye strain, dry eye, or trying to clear away blurry vision, visit your optometrist to treat the cause of your eye rubbing to reduce your risk of developing eye problems.
Why Do People Rub Their Eyes?
It’s common to rub your eyes without even consciously thinking about it, but there are some underlying causes that trigger the behaviour.
Fatigue & Stress
When you’re tired, your eyes can feel heavy and strained, and rubbing them can provide temporary relief. Similarly, when you’re stressed or anxious, you may rub your eyes as a way to self-soothe.
If you constantly rub your eyes due to fatigue or stress, it may be time to focus on getting more rest and coping with stress in different ways.
If your eyes are red, itchy, and watery, you likely have seasonal allergies. When you’re exposed to allergens like pollen, dust, or pet dander, your immune system reacts by releasing histamines, which can cause inflammation and irritation in the eyes.
Rubbing your eyes in response to allergies can make things worse, releasing even more histamines and exacerbating the symptoms.
If your eyes are burning, stinging, or feel gritty, you may have dry eye. This occurs when your eyes don’t produce enough quality tears to keep them lubricated, leading to irritation and discomfort. Rubbing your eyes can provide temporary relief but can also worsen the symptoms by disrupting the delicate tear film. Instead, hydrate your eyes using artificial tears or other lubricating eye drops.
If you spend a lot of time staring at screens or reading small print, you may develop eye strain, which can cause soreness, fatigue, and blurry vision. Rubbing your eyes may feel like a natural response, but it can actually make things worse by adding more pressure.
Instead, take frequent breaks to rest your eyes, adjust your screens’ lighting and font size, and try using the 20-20-20 rule: Look away from your screen every 20 minutes for 20 seconds and focus on an object 20 feet away.
What Happens When You Rub Your Eyes?
Rubbing your eyes can cause damage to the ocular structures, and frequent, prolonged eye rubbing can cause:
- Eye pain
- Light sensitivity
- Reduced vision
- Eye inflammation
Persistent eye rubbing can pull at the skin around your eyes, causing dark circles, increasing inflammation, and leading to signs of premature aging. Bags under your eyes, fine lines, and deep wrinkles can begin to develop, altering your appearance and creating permanent effects on your skin.
Eye Irritation & Infection
Rubbing your eyes, especially if you do it forcefully, can lead to eye irritation. It’s a quick way to transfer bacteria from your fingers to your eyes. The bacteria on your hands can quickly spread to your eyes, causing an infection. This can happen because you are pushing dirt, pollen, and other irritants into your eyes.
Keep an eye out for symptoms that could signal an eye infection:
- A gritty feeling
- Swollen eyelids
- Watery eyes
If you already have dry eyes or allergies, rubbing your eyes may only worsen your symptoms.
Contact lens wearers should be careful not to rub their eyes since the lenses can move around. If the lenses are left in too long, rubbing your eyes with contacts in may even lead to corneal damage, including scratches, abrasions, and ulcers.
The Risk of Keratoconus
Keratoconus is a condition that changes the shape of your cornea, leading to distorted vision. While the cause of keratoconus isn’t entirely known, rubbing your eyes frequently is a significant risk factor.
The constant pressure on the cornea can weaken it over time, leading to the cone-like formation of keratoconus. While rubbing your eyes once in a while likely won’t lead to keratoconus, it’s best to avoid eye rubbing when possible.
Discover the Cause of Eye Rubbing
Rubbing your eyes may seem harmless, but it’s a habit that doesn’t offer many benefits. Whether you’re rubbing your eyes because of fatigue, eye strain, dry eyes, or poor vision, the doctors at Stoney Creek Optometry can help.
For comprehensive eye care, schedule an appointment to find solutions to your eye and vision problems that cause you to rub your eyes.