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Stop Rubbing Your Eyes

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Here’s why…

Sore eyes, dry eyes, wet eyes, tired eyes, late night, early start, allergies… the list goes on. We all rub them. Right? Well, after reading this, you might want to think twice in future!

The first thing many of us do every day is s-t-r-e-t-c-h… and rub our eyes. We feel the gentle pressure helps get us started, and hope its action will move away a little of the debris that builds up in our eyes as we sleep! We’re also stimulating our tears ducts, and lubricating those reluctant eyes. Seems harmless enough… but if you’re not careful, you could be doing unconscious damage to yourself!

What happens when you rub? The cornea distorts and the eyeball is pushed back deeper in to the eye socket. You know that can’t be a good thing!

What are the risks? Although most are temporary, none are minor – any damage to the eye, however minimal it may seem, can spell big trouble! We’ve collected the risks, and added tips to help prevent damage… but be warned that we kept the most disturbing discovery for the end, so, be sure to read on!

Dark circles – okay, eye-rubbing isn’t the only culprit here (anaemia, tiredness, some medications, some allergies, and pure-and-simple old age can also be factors). What causes the darkness is rather alarming story – the skin around and (in particular) under our eyes is thin and delicate. When you rub, there’s a high likelihood that you’ll end up breaking the tiny blood vessels that lay just under the skin’s surface. The blood flows into the area under this thin skin, and gives the dark appearance. Not a nice thought, is it?

Tip: if you routinely wake up with dark circles under your eyes, you may be rubbing your eyes in your sleep! Consider wearing an eye mask to bed!


Released histamines – not usually dangerous, but always very uncomfortable, when your body encounters an allergen, it produces histamine to attack what it sees as these foreign bodies invading your space! When this happens on your cornea, the natural instinct is to rub – if you’ve ever been affected, you’ll recall the instant relief this brings. However, you’ll also recall that this relief is only temporary. Why? Because your rubbing causes pressure in the eye (which it sees as evidence of a further invader!) and it responds with the release of more histamine! In short order, you’ll be as itchy and irritated as ever!

Tip: use an over-the-counter eye drop or saline solution to flush the allergens out of your eyes.


Increased infection – having come off a flight, finished tapping away at the ATM, or even shaking hands in a business meeting, you wouldn’t put your fingers in your mouth without at least washing them first. But I bet you’d rub your eyes without giving it a second thought. Even if you work in a clean environment, you’ll have hundreds of thousands of bacteria on your fingers and, depending on what else you’ve come in to unknowing contact with, you could be about to transfer staphylococcus, streptococcus, E. coli, or salmonella on to your eyeball!

Tip: if you really must touch your eye – wash your helps thoroughly with soap and warm water first, then dry fully on a clean towel!


A scratched cornea – it turns out that rubbing your eyes is actually the worst way to remove debris and grit! You’re likely to be rubbing the particles more deeply in to your delicate orbs! Do this harshly, or with hard and sharp foreign bodies, and you could end up scratching your cornea! What’ll happen then? Well, if you’re lucky, only a little redness and irritation. Unlucky, and it could lead to fungal infections and scars – which can mean permanent vision problems.

Tip: flush away irritants with clean water or sterile saline solution.


A thinned cornea – this is where things start to turn nasty. The cornea is the eye’s outermost lens. It’s the edge, the covering if you like, of the eye. Its rounded shape helps refract incoming light and directs it towards the retina at the back of the eye. The cornea doesn’t maintain its perfectly efficient shape by accident – it relies on microscopic collagen fibers for this.

Now, hears the news… repeated, excessive, or aggressive rubbing (your optician will refer to this as ‘repeated trauma’) of the eyes can lead to a weakening of these necessary fibers. As they break, the cornea takes on a whole different ‘cone-shaped’ appearance. When the cornea bulges outwards, you’ve achieved a totally unwanted condition known as ‘keratoconus’ which can lead to distorted vision and possibly the need for a corneal graft.

With keratoconus there is usually no sensation of pain, and during the eye stages it may just appear as a general weakening of the eyesight. However, once diagnosed, initial correction may be achieved using special contact lenses. Should vision continue to deteriorate, that corneal transplantation may be the only solution!

Tip: don’t rub your eyes. Really, it’s that simple.


Other conditions report higher risks due to eye rubbing, these include glaucoma, hyphaema (a pooling of blood between the cornea and the iris), lens dislocation, and even retinal detachments.

As with many medical conditions, the best remedy is prevention. Every time you go to touch your eye, stop yourself. Think of the dangers. Keep eye drops handy at all times instead. This will keep your eyes hydrated and will prevent itching. It’s a tough habit to break, but making a conscious effort means you’re already well on the way to avoiding unnecessary risks!

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