There are times when it seems like rubbing the eyes is the natural thing to do; when we feel tired after a long period of reading or working at the computer, when we wake up, or have a headache. The habit may seem harmless, and it is certainly instinctual. The fact is, though, rubbing your eyes could do more harm than good.
Why We do it
It is our natural inclination to rub the eyes when they feel dry and irritated. We may also want to rub them if something in the environment causes them to itch, or if they simply feel fatigued. When we rub them, they actually feel better. This is because rubbing triggers tear production, which lubricates the surface. This added moisture usually relieves whatever sensation has caused discomfort – at least temporarily.
Because the urge to rub the eyes is natural, we may not even realize that doing so relieves stress. That’s right! When pressure is placed on the eyes, the vagus nerve is stimulated and causes an oculocardiac reflex, which slows heart rate. Fascinating! Still, there are other effects that aren’t so great:
- Bacteria. When we rub our eyes, chances are we do not clean our hands first. Our hands touch so many objects throughout the day that they can pick up numerous types of bacteria, which we then deliver straight to the eyes. Yuck.
- Allergens. Think that rubbing relieves your eyes from the stress of allergies? Think again. Those allergens that are causing itchy, watery eyes may just be trapped in your eyelashes, and rubbing is spreading them.
- Aging. As if we didn’t have enough to be concerned about, we now have to know that rubbing our eyes could pull on the delicate skin, causing wrinkles and sagging. It is also possible to break the tiny blood vessels beneath the skin, which can lead to dark circles.
- Eye problems. Not everyone is at risk for vision impairment due to rubbing, but not everyone is safe, either. Rubbing forcefully increase intraocular pressure. Sometimes, pressure is not returned to normal right away. The pressure can also cause the retina to gradually detach from the back of the eye, or cause a tear in the cornea.
Patients of the Central Florida Eye Institute receive the care they need to resolve issues that may cause chronic eye irritation. To schedule your visit with us, call (352) 237-8400.