Rubbing your eyes can feel soothing when you’re tired or sick, but it’s not a harmless habit. In fact, rubbing your eyes can cause long-term damage to the retina. While you may not be able to cut out all of your eye rubbing, it’s important to be decrease the activity. Being more aware of eye rubbing and the problems it can cause may save your vision in the long run.
Eye Rubbing – Why We Do It
Rubbing your eyes can be therapeutic, which is why we often do it when we’re tired or sick. When you press down on your eyeball, it stimulates a specific nerve called the vagus nerve. This nerve is part of the circuit that connects the heart, lungs, neck and abdomen to the brain. When the nerve is pressed down on, it lowers heart rate and relieves stress. Rubbing the eyes also stimulates tear production, which alleviates dry, itchy eyes.
Why is Eye Rubbing a Concern?
If eye rubbing is something that feels good and has a purpose, then why the worry? Believe it or not, eye rubbing can lead to big problems if you do it often. Here are a few concerns ophthalmologists have.
Retinal detachment. If your retina is weakened due to a pre-existing condition, (i.e., progressive myopia) rubbing could place more pressure on the retina and cause it to detach. Weakened retinas are common with progressive myopia because the retina is stretched out and thin.
Transfer of bacteria. One of the ways that bacteria enters the eye is through the hands. Your hands carry more germs than any other part of the body, so it’s easy to transfer them into your eyes. Conjunctivitis (or pink eye) occurs when the conjunctiva is inflamed.
Worsened eyesight. Some people find that rubbing their eyes worsens conditions like glaucoma. In people with this condition, eye rubbing disrupts blood flow to the eye. This affects the nerves and can lead to permanent vision loss.
Scratched cornea. Rubbing is natural when you have something in your eye, such as debris or an eyelash. Unfortunately, too much rubbing can scratch the cornea. Corneal abrasions are one of the most common eye injuries and can cause major discomfort.
How to Prevent Rubbing the Eyes
The best way to decrease the need to rub your eyes is by keeping them hydrated. This can be done by drinking lots of water and using artificial tears. If you have allergies, talk to your eye doctor about taking antihistamine eye drops to decrease irritation. As always, keep the hands clean, especially when touching your face. If you do happen to get something in your eye, avoid rubbing. Flush out the eye with sterile saline and head to the doctor if it doesn’t come out.
If you have damaged your retina or cornea from frequent eye rubbing, contact Empire Retina. Our retina specialists are experienced in treating this damage.