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Young brunette woman rubbing her eyes

Why you shouldn’t rub your eyes

By Anastasia Climan Jan 05, 2023 • 4 min

Have you ever noticed how often you rub your eyes? Whether it’s too much screen time, a habit since childhood, or you’re just tired, it’s easy to rub your eyes several times a day without even thinking about it. But while it’s a common habit, it can lead to negative consequences if left unchecked. Over time, chronic and vigorous eye rubbing can lead to wrinkles, dark circles and bloodshot eyes. You may also be at risk for infection and damage to the cornea (the front surface of the eye) that can affect your vision. Here’s why you should look deeper into this common habit and stop eye-rubbing for good.

What happens when you rub your eyes

Rubbing your eyes can introduce bacteria and dirt from your hands into a sensitive area, leading to irritation and infection. The friction from rubbing can also produce small rips, or microtears, in the eye tissue, causing damage that can’t heal if eye rubbing is a constant habit.

The extra pressure produces a condition called keratoconus, which leads to corneal thinning and inflammation. Keratoconus changes the shape of the eye and requires treatment to prevent eyesight damage.

Finally, tugging on the upper and lower eyelid can affect the elasticity and appearance of the delicate skin around the eyes. Frequently rubbing your eyes can leave you looking tired and worn-out.

Take action to stop eye rubbing

Here are a few steps you can take at home to reduce eye itching and irritation:

  • Avoid common triggers like pet dander, smoke and chlorine
  • Keep your bedsheets clean and free from a common allergen, dust mites
  • Rest a cool compress over closed eyes a few times a day
  • Wash your hands often to keep them clean in case you accidentally rub your eyes

You can also purchase artificial tears, available over the counter, and put them in your eyes up to four times a day to wash away allergens and reduce dryness. If you have known allergies, choose eye drops that contain antihistamines for extra relief. Decongestant eye drops can also help reduce redness, but you shouldn’t use these for more than three days in a row.

If home remedies don’t offer relief after about a week, it’s probably time to visit the eye doctor. If you suspect allergies are causing the urge to rub your eyes, make an appointment with an allergist for testing. You might be suffering from dry eyes, allergies or an infection that would benefit from professional help. 

Breaking a habit like eye rubbing can be tough, but it’s not impossible. There are lots of ways to find relief that are easier on the eyes. Start by making a few changes at home, and reach out to a healthcare provider for medical treatment if needed.

Published January 2023.

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