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Is it bad to rub your eyes?

rubbing your eyes
Person rubbing their eyes

There are pros and cons to rubbing your eyes, but overall Dry Eye Zone says STOP - It won’t help your dry eye

We all rub our eyes from time to time, but if it’s becoming a habit then it might be time to stop. Why this should be of note to dry eye sufferers is that in a report published earlier this year dry eye disease with persistent eye rubbing were linked. The researchers estimated that potentially problematic eye rubbing is found in 20-30% of dry eye sufferers.

Although a little bit of eye rubbing might actually be a good thing for dry eye sufferers as it stimulates production of our eyes’ natural moisture protection – your tears. The tear flow relieves dry eye symptoms and helps to wash away potential irritants like dust or pollen. However, more than the occasional rub could do more harm than good. Read on to find out why…

Why do we rub our eyes?

You might just be rubbing your eyes because you are tired or have just woken up, this is a natural response and is nothing to worry about.

However, eye rubbing can also be a reflex reaction in response to an itchy or irritated eye. An itchy eye is a common ocular sensation and a frequent one for the dry eye sufferer. The itching is caused by the release of histamine as part of the dry eye ‘vicious cycle’. It is triggered by your eyes’ inflammatory response.

It can be a habit

Rubbing your eyes can feel good and bring temporary relief, but rubbing can cause more irritation and histamine release. Before you know it you are trapped in a cycle of persistent eye rubbing. The rubbing which is meant to relieve the itch can actually make it worse. Studies have also indicated that eye rubbing can become an addictive habit – so try not to even get started!

How often is too often?

It is difficult to say but once or twice a day is unlikely to cause harm, however, if you find yourself rubbing your eyes throughout the day that is when problems could start.

Is eye rubbing dangerous?

It can be. In moderation rubbing your eyes will do no harm but if you are rubbing your eyes too frequently then you can damage the delicate surface of the eye, the cornea, leading to blood-shot eyes and potential infection. There are also links, in extreme cases, to an actual thinning of the cornea which then ‘bulges’ into a cone-like shape causing visual disturbances. This is a serious ocular condition called keratoconus.

Researchers have even looked at different types of eye rubbing and ‘knuckle rubbing’ exerted the most force and potentially more damage.

Here's how you can stop

Make sure your dry eyes are well hydrated using a preservative free dry eye drop such as HydraMed. These eye drops will help to rebalance the natural ocular environment and stop those itchy sensations which make you want to start rubbing your eyes.

If it has already become a habit then ask the advice of your eye care professional, they may advise you to take an antihistamine to help stop the irritation and break the cycle of rub-itch-rub. The scientific evidence clearly points to avoiding eye-rubbing to help look after your eyes – and avoid making dry eye worse.

If you are experiencing dry eye symptoms then you should ask the advice of your eye care professional. Why not book your next eye examination with an independent optician today.


Hage A, Knoeri J, Leveziel L, Majoulet A, Blanc JV, Buffault J, Labbé A, Baudouin C. EYERUBBICS: The Eye Rubbing Cycle Study. J Clin Med. 2023 Feb 15;12(4):1529. doi: 10.3390/jcm12041529. PMID: 36836063; PMCID: PMC9964729.

Najmi H et al. The correlation between keratoconus and eye rubbing: a review. Int J Ophthalmol. 2019 Nov 18;12(11):1775-1781. doi: 10.18240/ijo.2019.11.17.

Hafezi, F., Hafezi, N., Pajic, B. et al. Assessment of the mechanical forces applied during eye rubbing. BMC Ophthalmol 20, 301 (2020).

Lynda Charters. Ophthalmology Times Europe. Breaking the cycle of chronic eye rubbing. Apr 7, 2023

Li Xia, Wei Anji, Yang Yujing, Hong Jiaxu, Xu Jianjiang. Effect of eye rubbing on corneal biomechanical properties in myopia and emmetropia. Frontiers in Bioengineering and Biotechnology. Vol 11, 2023.




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