While it may seem like a harmless action, rubbing your eyes can actually cause a lot of damage. There are a number of different reasons that people rub their eyes and for the most part, it does more harm than good. While rubbing your eyes might feel really good in the short term, it's best to find other ways to get relief from your symptoms.
Why People Rub Their Eyes
Rubbing your eyes can feel good for a number of reasons. First of all, it can be therapeutic as the pressure can be soothing and can stimulate the vagus nerve, alleviating stress. It can also lubricate your eyes by stimulating the tear ducts and can flush the surface of any irritant particles.
However, you don’t want to make eye rubbing a habit because there are a number of ways it can cause damage. Let’s take a look at some of the reasons why people rub their eyes and some ways to avoid it.
If you are rubbing your eyes because you are tired, think again. Rubbing your eyes frequently can contribute to bloodshot eyes and dark circles due to the breakage of tiny blood vessels in and around your eyes. If you are already tired, this can add to an even more worn-out appearance.
Itchy eyes can be caused by a number of reasons including allergies, inflammation, or infections. In any case, rubbing can often make things worse. For allergies, rubbing the eyes can actually make your eyes more itchy because it contribute to the process that causes the tissue to feel itchy. This happens due to an inflammatory cascade response that is aggravated by eye rubbing, which can cause swelling and redness.
If you have an infection, rubbing your eye can cause more irritation and often spreads the infection to your other eye, and potentially to the people around you. In fact, that may be how you got that infection to begin with. The hands carry a good amount of germs and bacteria, and your eyes are an easy access point for these germs to enter. Touching something, even as common as a doorknob or towel, which someone else with an eye infection also touched, is a common cause of conjunctivitis and other contagious eye infections.
Something In Your Eye
If something is irritating your eyes, rubbing may seem like the natural response to get it out. However, this can cause the object to scratch your eye and damage the cornea. Rubbing may occasionally push a foreign body deeper into the cornea making it more painful and difficult to remove.
Dry eyes can be temporary, resulting from environmental or physical circumstances, or chronic, due to a condition like blepharitis in which the eye lids produce a poor quality tear film. If you rub your eyes when they feel dry, it can exacerbate your discomfort and potentially cause infection if you don’t wash your hands first. Instilling an artificial tear is a much better way to provide temporary relief from occasional dry eye symptoms.
Other Eye Conditions
Eye rubbing can be especially risky for people with existing eye conditions such as glaucoma, thin cornea and progressive myopia, as it can worsen eyesight. In glaucoma the eye rubbing can lead to an increase in eye pressure which can contribute to nerve damage and eventual vision loss. In individuals with a thin cornea, eye rubbing can exacerbate the problem sometimes resulting in a condition known as keratoconus which significantly distorts vision.
Alternatives to Eye Rubbing
Your eyes actually have built-in mechanisms to flush out particles and irritants, but when these don’t work, eye flushing, eye drops or artificial tears might bring relief or remove foreign bodies. If you think you have a foreign body in the eye, first flush the eye with saline, eye wash or water. If you have something stuck in your eye that you can’t flush out, go immediately to an eye doctor.
Eye Drops or Cool Down
For chronic itching or allergies, speak to your eye doctor as there are remedies such as antihistamines, mast cell stabilizers or even steroid eye drops that can be prescribed to alleviate symptoms. If prescription eye drops aren't available when needed, try cooling down by applying a cold compress over the closed eyes for a few minutes. Cooling the eye area will reduce symptoms as it causes the blood vessels to constrict, while heat tends to make the itch worse.
If you have dry eyes there are a number of options available for treatment which include improving your lid hygiene, applying eye drops, or performing procedures to improve your natural tear quality.
Remember, no matter how good it may feel to rub your eyes, there are potential consequences and some of them are serious. So next time, think twice before you rub!