We all do it. Most of the time, we don’t give it a second thought because we’ve done it our entire life. We’re talking about rubbing our eyes. If you do this, you’re certainly not the only one. But, if you do this, you could be doing a bit of harm to your peepers in more ways than one.
Why we do it
Rubbing is a natural instinct, like yawning when you’re sleepy. You might reach for your eyes when they are tired or sore from staring at your computer screen. It may be the itch of allergies, or the foreign body feeling you get when your eyes get dry. Rubbing sends more tears into the eye by activating the tear ducts. More moisture creates greater comfort, so why wouldn’t you want to rub from time to time! Also, there is a relaxation effect that occurs in response to gentle pressure on the ocular structures. There’s even a name for it; the oculocardiac reflex.
What Could Happen when we do it
Aside from the advantages of increased tear production and greater relaxation, rubbing your eyes could mean danger, too:
- Bacteria live on everything we touch. When we touch objects like our keyboard or our cell phone (18 times more bacteria than a public bathroom! Yuck!), those tiny organisms that we cannot see jump on board. Not finicky in the least, bacteria will then happily move from hand to eye when we rub. This could lead to chronic dry eyes or, worse, infection.
- The signs of aging are not usually attributed to eye-rubbing, but they could be. Rubbing with pressure could damage capillaries around the eye, leading to the appearance of dark circles. The tug and pull of skin when we rub may not produce immediate damage, but it exacerbates the appearance of lines and wrinkles once we start to lose collagen and elasticity.
- The eyes can actually be damaged from aggressive or excessive rubbing. This is because of pressure inside the eye. A gentle rub doubles the normal pressure. Harsh motions on the eyes substantially increase intraocular pressure, creating a risk for corneal scratches or tear, and even retinal detachment.