Your mother probably told you as a child to not rub your eyes, don’t sit too close to the television, etc. Well she was right about the eye rubbing. Even though we shouldn’t, we all do it on occasion. We may do it because our eyes are itchy. We may do it in an attempt to get a foreign substance like an eyelash out of our eye. Or, we may do it because our eyes feel tired and rubbing the eyes helps them feel better by increasing tear production. Whatever the reason, we shouldn’t rub our eyes and below are 5 things that can happen to our eyes and the skin around them if we do.
Increased Risk of Infection
Bacteria are all around us. In fact, our hands are full of bacteria. Just think of everything your hands touch throughout the day...keyboards, door handles and shopping carts to name a few. Who knows who touched these items before you and whether or not they had a cold. 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.
You Could Damage Your Cornea
The cornea is the clear, dome-shaped tissue that sits in front of the iris, the colored part of the eye. A smooth, round shape to the cornea is necessary for crisp, clear vision. The cornea consists of collagen fibers arranged in layers similar to how plywood is constructed. If these fibers weaken or bend, it can result in an irregularity in the shape and contour of the cornea. This can result in a thinned area that bulges outward. If you think of the rubber ball from elementary school or a car tire that developed a thinned area that bulged outward, you have an idea of what this looks like. When this thinning and bulging occurs on the cornea, it is called an ectasia and results in a condition called keratoconus. Keratoconus can severely affect the quality of one’s vision. Early on, a person may maintain good vision with contact lenses or glasses, but as it progresses one often needs specially fit rigid, gas permeable lenses to maintain good vision. It can potentially progress to the need for a corneal transplant. There is a newer treatment called corneal crosslinking that can intervene before a person gets to where they need a corneal transplant.
It is thought that rubbing the eyes; especially knuckle rubbing is a leading cause of keratoconus. The physical trauma induced by the eye rubbing resulting in damage to the cornea’s collagen fibers.
Dark Circles Around Your Eyes
There are numerous causes for dark circles around the eyes...certain medications, fatigue, age, anemia, and allergies. Eye rubbing is another potential cause. The skin around our eyes is very thin and delicate. Rubbing the eyes can result in damage to the blood vessels under the skin’s surface. This may cause the vessels to break and bleed. When the blood accumulates in this area, you will notice the skin getting darker in color. This is not a permanent problem, but can reoccur with episodes of eye rubbing.
You Will Loosen the Skin Around Your Eyes and Develop Wrinkles Faster
As mentioned earlier, the skin around the eyes is very thin and delicate. As we age, the skin loses some of its elasticity. Around the eyes, this results in the development of wrinkles. Rubbing the eyes can stretch this tissue prematurely, resulting in an increase in wrinkle formation.
Worsening of Glaucoma
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.
How to Stop Rubbing Your Eyes
- 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.