“You’ll get wrinkles!” “Your eyesight will worsen!” “It’ll give you panda eyes!” Sound familiar? You may have grown up hearing this and may even be citing these very reasons to warn your kids against rubbing their eyes.
However, is rubbing our eyes as bad as our parents and grandparents made it out to be? What are the real consequences of rubbing our eyes?
But it’s so satisfying!
Why does something so bad for you feel so right?
When we rub our eyes, tears are secreted to lubricate and clean out foreign particles, providing temporary relief. The action also stimulates the vagus nerve, triggering a relaxation response to slow heart rate and reduce stress.
Since rubbing our eyes is so soothing, it’s hard to believe that it can cause much harm.
Here’s why it can put you through a world of pain.
It’s a vicious cycle.
Have you realised you can’t stop rubbing your eyes once you start? This is because eye rubs release histamine, a chemical which aggravates the itch and compels us to rub more and harder!
When we rub our eyes, the force applied on our eyeballs increases eye pressure. To put things into perspective, a light rub doubles the pressure – make-up removal or wiping away tears nudges it up by a bit more. If we scrunch up our eyes and rub aggressively with our knuckles, the eye pressure shoots up tremendously by 20 times.
Usually, the eye pressure will return to normal quickly with no visible long-term damage, but frequent rubbing may bring about more serious consequences, especially for those with pre-existing eye conditions.
What can happen?
Here are some repercussions of eye rubbing:
1. Dark eye circles. Yes it’s true! Excessive rubbing ruptures delicate blood vessels surrounding the eyes, leading to skin discolouration and those unsightly circles under your eyes.
2. Wrinkles. The skin surrounding the eyes loses elasticity, resulting in a droopy and wrinkled appearance.
3. Eye infection. Rubbing introduces bacteria on the hands to the eyes, risking infection.
4. Corneal abrasion. Potential irritants present on the surface of the eyes will cause more damage to the eye when rubbed.
Before we try to kick the habit, it is necessary to recognise why we do it in the first place.
Culprit #1: Digital eye strain
The fix: Take 15 min breaks for every 2 hours of device use and ensure the device is at a suitable distance away from the eyes (30cm for phones/tablets and 60cm for computers). Use anti-glare screens and reduce overhead lighting when possible.
Culprit #2: Dry eye (a symptom of digital eye strain)
The fix: Use artificial tears or place a warm towel over your eyes.
Culprit #3: Allergies
The fix: Identify potential allergens and avoid them if possible or use eye drops.
Culprit #4: Eyelid inflammation (Blepharitis)
The fix: Wash eyelids with eyelid wipes or tear-free soap to remove debris and reduce irritation.
Culprit #5: Contact lens wear
The fix: Remove the lenses and consult an eye doctor for remedies.*
Prevention is better than cure
Beyond health repercussions, rubbing your eyes constantly can develop into a bad habit that can be hard to kick. When it comes to our children, there is no time like the present to stop them from touching their eyes. It can be hard but remember, a gentle reminder today goes a long way for their eye health!
We created Plano Eyecheck, an easy-to-use online platform to connect families in Singapore to their nearest optometrist. Locate, book and manage your appointments for a variety of eye care services, including comprehensive eye check-ups and myopia control consultations here.
*Plano Eyecheck is currently in Singapore with plans to expand internationally to close the loop for eye care service delivery worldwide.