Why You Shouldn’t Rub Your Eyes?
We all rub our eyes at some point: because we’re tired, because we have allergies or a cold, because our contacts are dry, or because we feel something may be in them and we want to get out the debris. Whatever the reason, it can feel good to do so.
But all that rubbing is really not good for your eyes, and here’s why.
Bacteria are all around us. In fact, our hands are full of bacteria. You use your hands for just about everything, from typing on your keyboard to preparing your food to combing your hair.
As a result, you likely have hundreds of thousands of distinct bacteria clinging to your hands, even if you work in a relatively clean environment.
This is the reason we need to thoroughly wash our hands before handling food, handling contact lenses, etc. Each time you rub your eyes, you are potentially exposing your eyes to these bacteria or viruses. This increases the risk of developing conjunctivitis, pink eye, which is highly contagious.
The cornea is the clear, dome-shaped tissue that sits in front of the iris, the colored part of the eye. The cornea’s round shape bends and refracts incoming light so it travels directly to the retina at the back of the eye.
To maintain its gently curved shape, the cornea relies on tiny collagen fibers. When these fibers weaken or break, the cornea bulges outward until it forms a cone shape, resulting in a condition known as keratoconus.
Keratoconus occurs for a number of reasons, such as genetics, eye disease, and oxidative stress. However, some researchers hypothesize that frequent rubbing causes trauma to the eye, and over time, that repeated trauma weakens the collagen fibers.
Although you can manage early stages of keratoconus, keep your hands away from your eyes as a preventative measure.
Dark circles around your eyes occur for a variety of reasons, including medications, anemia, allergies, fatigue, and age. However, rubbing and scratching your eyes can also cause these circles to appear, or at least darken circles already present.
Compared to the rest of your face, the skin around your eyes is the thinnest and most delicate. Whenever you rub your eyes, you potentially damage the tiny blood vessels just beneath the skin’s surface. When the blood vessels break, the blood flows into the surrounding tissue, temporarily giving your skin a darker shadowy color.
If you consistently wake up with dark circles, you likely rub your eyes in your sleep. Consider wearing an eye mask to bed to cushion and protect your skin.
Glaucoma is a disease of the optic nerve in the back of the eye. This nerve is responsible for transporting the visual information gathered by the retinal tissue in the back of the eye to the occipital lobe in the back of the brain. It is in the occipital lobe that the information is processed into the images that we see. As glaucoma develops, portions of this nerve tissue are damaged. This results in patches of a person’s vision being gone. As glaucoma progresses, the areas of missing vision increase. Ultimately, it can lead to blindness.
Glaucoma is treated by lowering the pressure within the eye. This is accomplished by medication, laser or surgery. Fluctuations in the pressure throughout the day can lead to increased damage from glaucoma. Studies have shown that rubbing our eyes can dramatically increase the pressure within in the eye. Thus, regular rubbing of the eyes could potentially cause a worsening of one’s glaucoma.
During allergy season, your immune system goes into overdrive. When your body encounters allergens, it naturally releases histamines. Histamines, in turn, allow white blood cells to better permeate capillaries and to more effectively attack foreign bodies in affected tissue. Unfortunately, histamines also trigger inflammation, so you experience red, irritated, swollen, and itchy eyes as a result.
When you rub your eyes, you experience temporary relief as you stimulate your tear production. The tears lubricate and soothe your eyes, and your eyes won’t feel as dry or irritated. But the extra pressure and movement also stimulate the release of additional histamines. In a few seconds, your eyes may feel itchier and more irritated than ever before.
- If you feel like you have something in your eyes, try flushing the eye with artificial tears or eye wash solution.
- Cold compresses can provide relief to red, itchy eyes.
- Either oral or topical antihistamines can help with red, itchy eyes from allergies.
- Wear eye protection during activities where something could come back and get into the eye.
- Get a good night’s sleep each day.