Rubbing your eyes is a natural response to itches, irritation and allergies. Most of us have been doing it for a very long time — since infancy, in fact. Watch a baby wake up in the morning and you’re very likely to observe this hardwired behavior.
But as natural as it may be, and as logical as it may seem, routinely rubbing your eyes can have negative consequences, ranging from scratched corneas to keratoconus. Below, Bay Area ophthalmologist Mark Mandel, MD, discusses some of the risks.
One of the main reasons that we rub our eyes is that it works. By rubbing the eyes, we stimulate tear flow, and this can wash away whatever is irritating the eye. It also has the unexpected effect of relaxing the vagus nerve, which can reduce stress.
Because the eye is so fragile, even a moderate amount of rubbing can result in damage. When rubbing causes small blood vessels to break, the eyes appear blood-shot. Leakage from capillaries can even help create dark circles under the eyes.
In the process of rubbing the eyes, your hand may transfer germs to the area, which can cause conjunctivitis or other infections. If there is dirt, debris or a grain of sand in the eye, it can scratch the cornea when you rub your eyes. The effect is even greater if you wear contact lenses.
Too much rubbing can affect your vision, changing your prescription by shortening or lengthening the distance between lens and retina. It can also cause an increase in intraocular eye pressure, which is especially dangerous for those already suffering from elevated eye pressure.
Constant eye rubbing can wear away the thickness of the cornea. When the cornea loses integrity, it may gradually become more conical in shape, resulting in keratoconus, a condition that can seriously impact the health of your eye and the clarity of your vision.
The Liquid Solution
The way to prevent all these effects — refraining from rubbing your eyes — is easier said than done. Eye rubbing is a natural response that we need to make a conscious effort to unlearn. The best alternative to addressing dryness and irritation is to wash the eye with sterile saline, eye drops or water. Flushing away dust and debris is the safest way to restore comfort and protect your delicate eyes.
If you would like to know more about healthy eye habits, we encourage you to schedule a personal consultation with Bay Area ophthalmologist Mark Mandel, MD. Contact Optima Eye by emailing us or calling 877-210-2020 ext. 3 today.