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5 Common Reasons You’re Rubbing Your Eyes and Why You Should Stop
This habit may feel good in the moment, but it could be a sign of a more serious problem.
Giselle Castro-SlobodaFitness and Nutrition Writer
I'm a Fitness & Nutrition writer for CNET who enjoys reviewing the latest fitness gadgets, testing out activewear and sneakers, as well as debunking wellness myths. On my spare time I enjoy cooking new recipes, going for a scenic run, hitting the weight room, or binge-watching many TV shows at once. I am a former personal trainer and still enjoy learning and brushing up on my training knowledge from time to time. I've had my wellness and lifestyle content published in various online publications such as: Women's Health, Shape, Healthline, Popsugar and more.
We've all rubbed our eyes if we have an itch, when we're tired, if it feels like an eyelash is trapped in there and sometimes just out of habit. It may seem harmless, but rubbing your eyes could put them at risk of an infection, ruin your cornea and more. If you're chronically rubbing your eyes, it's important to know what's causing you to do this in the first place, since it may be indicative of a greater problem.
Below are the many triggers that could be causing you to rub your eyes and how to resolve these problems. Remember, when in doubt, see your doctor who can offer the best possible solution for your condition.
Eye infections like conjunctivitis (also known as pink eye) can cause itching. Conjunctivitis is commonly caused by viruses or bacteria that enter the eye, per the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sometimes allergies and irritants such as smoke can trigger it as well. Signs you may have conjunctivitis include redness, thick discharge of the eye, itching and burning. If you're rubbing your eyes while having a case of conjunctivitis, you can risk spreading it to the healthy eye or to other people. See your doctor, who can provide proper treatment to help you get rid of the infection and help subside the symptoms (including the itching).
If you're rubbing your eyes because you've been exposed to allergens, it may be helpful to find eye drops that relieve the itching and discomfort. Rubbing your eyes when exposed to an allergen, such as cat dander, can cause you to rub your eyes more, making it feel worse. One over-the-counter eye drop that is expert-approved is Pataday, which you use once a day and contains an antihistamine. If this doesn't resolve your issue, it's helpful to see your doctor who can prescribe you a more appropriate eye drop to manage your allergies.
Dry eyes and eye straining
Having dry eyes can also cause an eye rubbing habit, which is especially harmful if you rub your eyes with force and pressure. "Frequent rubbing of the eyes can cause damage to the lens and/or cornea that can cause an infection or visual impairment," warns Dr. Marc Grossman, a New York-based optometrist. Dry eyes can often be attributed to frequent usage of screens like laptops and smartphones. Grossman recommends taking technological breaks since blinking decreases as we stare at screens and that causes dryness and irritation.These breaks increase needed oxygen flow to the eyes to prevent them from tiring and drying out. Other causes of dry eye include hormonal changes, health conditions, contact lenses, dry weather or certain medications' side effects.
Straining your eyes can also cause discomfort. If you're focusing for a long time or wearing the wrong prescription and straining to see, this can cause you to rub your eyes due to the dryness that comes with it. If you need an aid to help lubricate your eyes, try over-the-counter eye drops like Systane Complete PF Preservative Free Eye Drops, which is expert-recommended.
Keratoconus, a condition where your cornea changes into a cone shape, can be caused or worsened by rubbing your eyes too vigorously. Dr. Yuna Rapoport, an ophthalmologist at Manhattan Eye, says because eye rubbing can affect the cornea it can also lead to injuries like corneal or conjunctival abrasions. "It is important to be screened for these conditions and treated so that the rubbing subsides," she said. Signs you may have keratoconus include blurry vision, sensitivity to light or even unstable eye prescriptions. Rapoport recommends using lubricating eye drops, lubricating ointment, closing your eyes for 30 seconds or using a cold compress over the eyes to relieve symptoms instead of rubbing your eyes.
This condition causes inflammation of the eyelid and usually occurs in one of two ways: if bacteria gets into the eye or if a skin condition like rosacea develops. It can cause itchy or burning eyes, crusting eyes, swollen eyelids and redness. Rubbing your eyes when you have blepharitis puts you at risk of developing a worse infection, so it's best to see a doctor who can prescribe the best medication to clear it up.
The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.