When you wake up in the morning, one of the first things you might do is rub your eyes. The gentle pressure helps you wake up, and the movement wipes away any mucus and debris that built up in your eyes during the night. Additionally, the rubbing stimulates your lacrimal glands, which produce tears to soothe your tired eyes.

Though rubbing brings a small sense of pleasure, it also carries multiple risks. If you don’t exercise care whenever you rub, knuckle, or palm your eyes, you could cause damage in the following ways.

1. Greater Dark Circles

Dark circles around your eyes occur for a variety of reasons, including medications, anemia, allergies, fatigue, and age. However, rubbing and scratching your eyes can also cause these circles to appear, or at least darken circles already present.

Compared to the rest of your face, the skin around your eyes is the thinnest and most delicate. Whenever you rub your eyes, you potentially damage the tiny blood vessels just beneath the skin’s surface. When the blood vessels break, the blood flows into the surrounding tissue, temporarily giving your skin a darker shadowy color.

If you consistently wake up with dark circles, you likely rub your eyes in your sleep. Consider wearing an eye mask to bed to cushion and protect your skin.

2. Increased Risk of Infection

You use your hands for just about everything, from typing on your keyboard to preparing your food to combing your hair. As a result, you likely have hundreds of thousands of distinct bacteria clinging to your hands, even if you work in a relatively clean environment.

When you touch your hands to your eyes, you immediately transfer germs such as staphylococcus, streptococcus, salmonella, and E. coli, increasing your risk for serious infections. Although frequent washing kills some of these germs for a time, you can bet that those germs will return in frightening numbers as you go about your day.

If you absolutely must touch your eyes, always remember to thoroughly wash with soap and water for at least 30 seconds and wipe your hands on a clean, dry towel.

3. Scratched Cornea

In addition to transferring bacteria and germs, your hands may also introduce dust, debris, and other foreign particles to your eyes whenever you rub or touch them. If those objects are large enough, your eye may itch and sting, and in response, you may rub your eyes even more.

Unfortunately, rubbing your eyes is one of the worst ways to remove grit and debris. Rather than relieving the pain, rubbing may push the particles deeper into your eyes, scratching your cornea.

Small scratches and abrasions may lead to redness, irritation, and light sensitivity. Larger, more serious injuries may result in fungal infections and scars. In extreme cases, these abrasions may lead to long-term vision problems.

Should you feel or see any particles in your eyes, flush away the irritant with clean water or a sterile saline solution. If the debris remains, seek emergency help from an eye doctor.

4. Thinned the Cornea

The cornea acts as the eye’s outermost lens, controlling and focusing the light that enters the eye. The cornea’s round shape bends and refracts incoming light so it travels directly to the retina at the back of the eye.

To maintain its gently curved shape, the cornea relies on tiny collagen fibers. When these fibers weaken or break, the cornea bulges outward until it forms a cone shape, resulting in a condition known as keratoconus.

Keratoconus occurs for a number of reasons, such as genetics, eye disease, and oxidative stress. However, some researchers hypothesize that frequent rubbing causes trauma to the eye, and over time, that repeated trauma weakens the collagen fibers.

Although you can manage early stages of keratoconus via rigid contact lenses, keep your hands away from your eyes as a preventative measure.

5. Released Histamines

During allergy season, your immune system goes into overdrive. When your body encounters allergens, it naturally releases histamines. Histamines, in turn, allow white blood cells to better permeate capillaries and to more effectively attack foreign bodies in affected tissue. Unfortunately, histamines also trigger inflammation, so you experience red, irritated, swollen, and itchy eyes as a result.

When you rub your eyes, you experience temporary relief as you stimulate your tear production. The tears lubricate and soothe your eyes, and your eyes won’t feel as dry or irritated. But the extra pressure and movement also stimulate the release of additional histamines. In a few seconds, your eyes may feel itchier and more irritated than ever before.

If you need a little relief, invest in an over-the-counter eye drop or sterile saline solution that will flush out allergens and lubricate your eyes.

Can’t Stop Rubbing Your Eyes? Schedule an Eye Exam

Eye rubbing is a tough habit to break, but when you make a conscious effort, you can significantly reduce your risk for the above problems.

However, if your eyes feel consistently irritated or itchy, schedule an eye exam at All About Eyes. Your eye doctor can then pinpoint problems that would affect your ocular health and recommend the best treatment.

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