Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Rub Your Eyes

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This week’s blog on Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Rub Your Eyes has been contributed by Dr Luisa Sastre, Specialist Ophthalmologist in Medical Retina
5 Reasons Why Rubbing/Touching Your Eyes Is Not A Good Idea
Many of us tend to rub or touch our eyes frequently (consciously or not) during the course of every day. But did you know that every time we do this, we are taking serious risks?
Here is a list of eye diseases that have a connection with touching or rubbing your eyes:

  • INFECTIOUS CONJUNCTIVITIS – Adenoviral conjunctivitis is the most common cause of ‘red eye’ in the world and is very easily transmitted by someone who is infected. The virus moves around through direct contact with eye and nasal secretions or by indirect contact with contaminated surfaces (door handles, elevator buttons…). You can even get the virus from someone who has no symptoms but is incubating the disease, days before the symptoms appear. This is one of the reasons why touching your eyes is not a good idea.
  • KERATOCONUS – Keratoconus is an eye condition which results in a deformed and progressive thinning of the cornea, at the front of the eye. Keratoconus can cause severe loss of vision and surgery might be needed to stop it progressing. Rubbing your eyes is a known risk factor in the development of keratoconus and can make the condition worse.
  • ALLERGIC CONJUNCTIVITIS – Allergic / atopic conjunctivitis is caused by allergens (irritants such as dust, pollen, pollution) in the environment or in the foods we eat. It causes itching which can sometimes be severe and our natural reaction is to rub our eyes. However, this rubbing action also stimulates the release of histamine, which causes even more itching and the desire to keep rubbing. The process can result in even more allergens and irritants, including bacteria, fungus and viruses, getting into to the eye.
  • CORNEAL ULCERS – Dry eye syndrome is uncomfortable and feels like you have something in your eye and leads to rubbing. Rubbing can help produce tears that will soothe the irritation temporarily. However if left untreated, dry eye syndrome can eventually cause small wounds in the surface of your eye (keratitis) and rubbing can turn a mild keratitis into a corneal ulcer. Furthermore, rubbing your eye to remove something entered into it, can cause corneal ulcers and worsening of the condition (e.g. small metal splinters from grinding or cutting machines lodged on the cornea or conjunctiva are one of the most common emergencies seen by ophthalmologists). Finally, ‘fighting with a contact lens that won’t come out’ or that you think is ‘lost in your eye’, can cause significant irritation and corneal ulcers.
  • AFTER SURGERY – No matter how much you would like to rub your eyes, rubbing them after eye surgery is extremely dangerous. Rubbing your eyes can open surgical incisions causing leakage and transmission of bacteria and viruses, weeks or months after surgery. It can also move or dislodge a flap after LASIK surgery or an intraocular lens.

What are the alternatives to rubbing?
No matter how much pleasure and relief you find in rubbing, compressing or touching your eyes, it can be dangerous.
Although we know that rubbing the eyes creates tears that moisturise the eyes, it is always much safer to use artificial teardrops, whenever you have the desire to rub. There is no limit to the use of artificial teardrops and you can use them hourly or even every 15- 30 minutes, if you have significant discomfort. Preservative-free artificial teardrops are the best option. And of course, visit your ophthalmologist if the itchiness or the need to rub continues, as it can be a symptom of a condition that might need treatment.