timberland moccasin Can you damage your eyes if you rub them
We all do it. Sometimes it’s with one finger, other times we use the heels of both hands and when we’re after a nice firm gouge, we stick in a knuckle or two.
You might rub your eyes when you’re anxious or stressed, when you wake up in the morning or even when you sleep. Could rubbing your eyes actually cause some damage?
For most people, an occasional gentle rub is nothing to worry about, says Professor Charles McMonnies, from the School of Optometry and Vision Science at the University of NSW.
Rubbing your eyes stimulates tears to flow and lubricates dry eyes, removing dust and other irritants. It also relieves stress. That’s because pressing down on your eyeball stimulates the vagus nerve to slow down your heart rate. This so called oculocardiac reflex helps you to relax and smell the roses.
But if you rub your eyes too hard, too often or over a long period of time, you could get into trouble, says McMonnies, a research optometrist with a special interest in eye rubbing. He says studies show that rubbing causes our eye pressure to spike.
Even a light rub doubles it, he says. Removing eye make up or wiping away tears increases the pressure a little more. But scrunching up your eyes then using your knuckles to gouge really hard shoots up your eye pressure more than 20 times.
“Vigorous rubbers look like they’re trying to push the eyes to the back of their head,” McMonnies says of the more extreme examples of eye rubbing he’s seen.
Serious damageMost people’s eye pressure returns to normal when they stop rubbing and the temporary blip does no obvious long term damage.
However, for people with certain eye conditions, an increase in eye pressure caused by hard, frequent or prolonged rubbing could be more serious.
For instance, people with progressive myopia a common type of short sightedness caused by a lengthened eyeball can find their eyesight worsens. In some cases, their retina detaches from the back of the eye.
McMonnies says that’s probably because an already weakened retina is placed under more strain with successive pressure blips.
People with glaucoma may also be affected by the increase in eye pressure as it can disrupt blood flow at the back of the eye and lead to nerve damage, harming your sight.
Rubbing can also affect the front of the eye. The combination of increased eye pressure and the mechanical damage caused by rubbing can harm the cornea, the dome shaped window that we rely on for a clear view if the world.
In rare cases, the cornea tears. More commonly, it’s weakened and pushes forward to become more conical, like the pointy end of a rugby ball, a condition known as keratoconus. Again, the damage could be enough to cause significant loss of sight.
Rubbing your eyes first thing in the morning can be particularly risky for your cornea, which can be swollen from excess fluid as a result of low overnight oxygen levels.
Another high risk time is when you take out your contact lenses, McMonnies says, as your eye’s oxygen levels might still be recovering, especially if you wear thick lenses. Like rubbing first thing in the morning, a swollen cornea is more vulnerable to damage.
No reason for rubbingEven if we discount rare complications, eye rubbing can aggravate already sore, red and itchy eyes, says McMonnies, making you want to rub them even more.
If you suffer from allergies, rubbing can also transfer allergens like pollen from the lashes to the eye’s surface.
Then, there’s the chance of transferring germs from your hands to the eye, increasing the risk of styes and eye infections.
“There’s no reason to recommend rubbing at all,” says McMonnies about the range of everyday situations that usually beg for a rub.