Why It's Bad to Rub Your Eyes



Is it bad to rub your eyes? Definitely.


Besides cosmetic, safety and hygiene-related risks, rubbing your eyes can cause serious problems that might even damage your sight.


Why is rubbing your eyes harmful?

Rubbing your eyes can’t be that bad for you… right? WRONG.


To understand why eye rubbing is harmful, let’s start with a bit of information on the eye’s structure.


Collagen makes up the support structure for the eye, including the cornea and sclera (the outer layer and whites of the eyes). Whenever you press on your eye and rub, the collagen stretches inward. When you let go, it stretches back out.


Besides damaging the structure of the eye, eye rubbing can create a number of other issues, including:


  • Cosmetic: Excessive eye rubbing can create dark circles and wrinkles around the eyes. 

  • Safety: If you have something in your eye, rubbing can inflict more damage — it’s better to let tears naturally flush out the irritant.

  • Hygiene: Your hands have more bacteria than any other body part, so sticking a germy finger on your eye is always a bad idea.


How can rubbing your eyes damage them?

The most severe condition caused by eye rubbing (aside from blindness) is keratoconus, a structural abnormality of the cornea that causes poor vision. 


Keratoconus isn’t the only problem you can create by eye rubbing. You also can worsen the severity of underlying conditions like myopia and glaucoma.


Every time you push on your eye, you’re raising your eye pressure, so if you have glaucoma problems, you raise your eye pressure tremendously by rubbing them.


Also, since you’re compressing your eye then letting it go and decompressing it very quickly, it disturbs the vitreous gel inside the eye and it can cause retina problems.


Why do we see lights when we rub our eyes?

If you’ve ever rubbed your eyes too hard or aggressively, chances are you’ve seen floating stars or flashes of color called phosphenes.


Here is what's going on:

When you rub your eyes too hard, you raise the pressure in your eyeballs and affect the blood flow, Thompson says. The pressure triggers retinal signals the same way light does, but since your brain doesn’t know the difference, it activates the color changes or flashes as if they were coming from outside stimuli.

 

Phosphenes go away once you quit rubbing your eye, but the heightened eye pressure you caused stresses the retina and sometimes causes a retinal tear or detachment.


Why does it feel good to rub your eyes?

How can something so bad feel so good?


In your eyelids there are Meibomian glands that produce what is kind of like the olive oil secretion of our eye. It’s a comfortable fluid in the tear film that adds moisture and protects tears from evaporating. You can release more tears like this with eye rubbing, which is why it can make the eye feel good.


If you rub your eyes often, what should you do?

If you often rub your eyes, you should try to determine (and resolve) the cause.

Are your eyes tired, maybe from too much work looking at a screen? Digital eye strain might be behind your eye rubbing. If that's the case, take regular breaks from the computer or get an eye exam to check whether you need a new vision prescription.

If you rub your eyes during allergy season, avoid that allergy trigger.


Allergic conjunctivitis also can lead someone to rub his or her eyes, but that can be dangerous.


Rubbing your eyes releases histamine, so even though the rubbing feels good in the moment, it actually makes the itching worse, which can lead to more aggressive rubbing of one’s eyes. 


Eye rubbing, although it feels great, isn’t worth the risk of damaging your eyes or losing your sight. 


This post originally appeared on All About Vision.