The Surprisingly Serious Problem with Rubbing Your Eyes

So many things that seem so right in the moment have consequences later, and the simple act of eye rubbing turns out to be one of them.

Whether it’s from a long day, a long night before the long day, or just the usual hours at your computer, tired eyes beg to be rubbed. “Your eyes typically dry out over the course of the day,” says Beeran Meghpara, M.D., attending cornea surgeon at Wills Eye Hospital. “Rubbing may spread the tears around the surface of the eye and lubricate it. Pushing on the lids releases oil from them, and makes the surface nice and slick.” So there’s a good reason it feels so nice, he says.

But “it’s not the greatest thing to be doing,” he admits. All that rubbing can exacerbate a serious disease of the cornea – some say even can cause it – called keratoconus, where the cornea gets weak, loses its shape, and causes vision impairment. It’s considered to be a fairly rare disease, yet hundreds of thousands of people have it. And you don’t want to be one.

Really pushing on the lids as you rub also causes eye pressure to go up. That increases the risk of glaucoma, which damages the optic nerve and causes vision loss over time. All pretty compelling reasons to resist the rub. Fortunately, there are other things you can do.

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