It’s only natural: something itches, you scratch it. But when that something is your eyes, you may want to think twice about letting nature take its course. That’s because while rubbing your eyes may give you a momentary sense of relief, in the long term it can also have dangerous and harmful side effects.
Sound alarming? Well, instead of rubbing your eyes, let us help open them to better eye care with our short guide to the dangers of eye rubbing.
Risk of infection
Unless you’re an acrobat, chances are you aren’t rubbing your eyes with your elbow. And that’s too bad, because your elbow is much less dangerous than what you’re actually using for temporary relief: your finger. Rubbing your eyes with dirty hands can lead to infections, including pink eye and worse. While some of the risk can be mitigated by good hygiene, if you rub your eyes, you’re always going to place yourself at a higher risk of eye infection no matter how carefully you wash your hands.
Potential for injury
There are many reasons your eyes might be itchy, but one of the most obvious is that something actually is in your eye. If there is a foreign particle in your eye, however, rubbing is the least effective and most dangerous way to get it out. In most cases, your body’s natural defense mechanisms – in this case, tears – will take care of the problem, but if not, try using eye drops. If you do rub your eyes, that particle could end up scratching your cornea or otherwise injuring your eye. And that’s going to feel much worse for much longer than even the most annoying dust particle.
Long-term side effects
Rubbing your eyes now and again is one thing, but consistently rubbing your eyes over a long period of time has its own set of risks. Medical studies have shown that chronic eye rubbing can lead to a thinning of the cornea. That in turn can lead to recurring infections, or worse, a condition known as keratoconus, which causes a deterioration of vision that often cannot be reversed or fully corrected.
Those pesky dark circles
You know those dark circles under someone’s eyes that make them appear they haven’t gotten a good night’s sleep in weeks? Well, they may not have, because often those circles are caused by rubbing your eyes while asleep. Rubbing your eyes can break the small blood vessels in your eyelids, leading to those dark circles. If you’re waking up with dark circles, try wearing an eye mask to bed – and try to avoid rubbing your eyes during the day, too.
It doesn’t work
Ironically, rubbing your eyes to relieve the itching releases even more histamines. This actually makes the itching even worse. So if rubbing your eyes doesn’t even work, is it really worth taking all these risks? We didn’t think so.
Information from Essilor