If You Have To Rub Your Eyes, Here's The Safest Way To Do It

Perhaps your eyes are feeling dry or you sense your eyelids slowly drooping as it gets close to bedtime. Without thinking, you reach up and mash your fingertips into the corner of your eye to scratch that itch or wake yourself up.

On the one hand, rubbing our eyes serves a practical purpose. It prompts tear production, which helps keep our eyes moist and gets rid of any pesky intruders, such as stray eyelashes. Additionally, experts at Complete Eye Care explained that rubbing our eyes activates the vagus nerve, which alleviates symptoms of stress or anxiety, like rapid heart rate.

While these benefits may sound great, rubbing our eyes can come with some potential risks. Fortunately, there are ways to relieve the discomfort of dry, itchy eyes, but without forcefully rubbing them. If you cannot resist the urge to scratch, however, there is a safer way to do so.

Potential health risks of rubbing your eyes

Rubbing our eyes can help remove foreign objects by kick-starting tear production. However, the added physical pressure can increase the risk of a scratched cornea, retinal tear, or total retinal detachment (via Complete Eye Care). Additionally, our hands may not always be clean, so rubbing our eyes can be an easy way to spread infection. Calgary Family Eye Doctors also warned that if you're rubbing your eyes to relieve allergy symptoms, you may be doing yourself a disservice. Rubbing our eyes prompts the release of histamine, which can make our eyes more red and itchy.

Rubbing our eyes can also worsen conditions like progressive myopia or glaucoma. Specifically, eye rubbing can increase the risk of nerve damage and loss of eyesight for those with glaucoma. Even for those without an eye condition, continuous rubbing can cause wear and tear on the cornea, potentially leading to keratoconus and severe vision distortion. Finally, frequent eye rubbing may exacerbate signs of aging around the eyes, such as the development of wrinkles.

Avoid putting pressure on the eyes

When it comes to rubbing your eyes, no part of the hand is safer to use than another. For example, rubbing your eyes with your fingernail, no matter how gently, can put you at risk for a corneal injury. Using your knuckles to rub your eyes poses the greatest risk for keratoconus, according to The Keratoconus Diary. Anecdotal evidence from patients has also suggested that applying pressure to the eyes with your palms may induce headaches. Lending further support to these claims is a 1998 case report published in the scientific journal Headache that found a potential link between eye rubbing and migraines.

Ultimately, using eye drops is the best way to go about safely removing debris from the eye and restoring lubrication. However, if you absolutely must rub your eyes, wash your hands thoroughly beforehand. Talley Eye Institute suggested that you then lift the eyelid lightly and roll your eye around in different directions. Finish up by using a fresh tissue to blot the corner of the eye.