Rubbing your eyes now and then is normal. But if you’re rubbing itchy eyes all the time, it can be a sign that an underlying condition is affecting your eyes. 

Rubbing eyes can lead to eye problems in time and increases the risk of infections. It’s not a habit you want to encourage.

In this post, we explain why it’s best to avoid rubbing eyes. We also share with you useful tips on how to find relief and put an end to this habit.

Rubbing Eyes Too Much: Causes

From eye infections and allergies to dry eyes, many conditions can make your eyes feel itchy and tired and in need of a rub. Let’s take a closer look at the most common causes of itchy eyes.

Eye Strain

Spending long hours in front of screens every day? You’re a likely candidate for digital eye strain, a condition that affects almost 2 out of 3 Americans according to the National Center for Health Research. 

More than making your eyes feel tired, digital eye strain can lead to itching, burning eyes. If you catch yourself rubbing your eyes after a long session at the computer or late at night while watching TV, it’s a sign that your eyes need rest.

Dry Eye Disease

Dry eye disease or dry eye syndrome is a common condition that disrupts the tear film which normally lubricates and protects the surface of your eyes. By doing so, it can cause itching, burning, and a gritty feeling in the eye, like having specks of dust in it that you can’t blink away.

Whenever the surface of your eye dries out, you may feel the need to rub your eyes. However, this provides only the illusion of relief without addressing the underlying conditions causing dry eye disease.

Allergy

Eye allergies commonly cause itchiness. Some research indicates that when eye itchiness is caused by an allergen like cat dander, rubbing doesn’t bring relief. On the contrary, the more you rub your eyes, the more you want to do it.

African American man rubbing eyes while lying back in tent outdoors

If your eye rubbing is accompanied by watery eyes, sneezing, and a stuffy nose, an allergy is likely to blame. Even more so if this happens in spring and summer during pollen season.

Common allergens include pollen, pet dander, dust, perfumes, foods, smoke, and insect stings.

Blepharitis

Eyelids can become inflamed because of bacteria – a condition known as blepharitis. Certain skin conditions, like rosacea, also increase the risk of blepharitis.

Blepharitis may cause intense itching alongside redness, burning, and crusting eyes. Rubbing your eyes when you have blepharitis can make the condition worse.

Eye Infections Like Conjunctivitis

Also known as pink eye, conjunctivitis is a common eye infection caused by bacteria and viruses, though it may also be triggered by irritants like smoke.

Conjunctivitis turns the white of your eye pink or red. In addition to itchiness and burning, there’s usually also a thick discharge.

When you have an eye infection, rubbing your eye is not a good idea. It may cause the condition to spread to the other eye – or to other people.

Can Rubbing Eyes Damage Them?

Eye structures are sensitive. Rubbing your eyes hard or too often can break blood vessels in the eye. Getting a bloodshot eye after rubbing is common.

Rubbing eyes can also put pressure on the cornea, the transparent outer covering of the eye, causing it to thin and bulge. It may even damage the lens of the eye and lead to vision loss.

Rubbing your eyes when you have chronic dry eyes doesn’t help improve the condition since the underlying problem lies with the tear film that should lubricate and protect your eyes. It only puts additional stress on the eye.

Another reason not to rub your eyes is a higher risk to catch infections – or to spread them if you have one yourself. This is not limited to conjunctivitis and eye infections.

Rubbing your eyes can increase your risk of catching a variety of infections and viruses including COVID-19. People with COVID-19 who rub their eyes and then touch other people or surfaces may pass on the condition to others.

How to Stop Rubbing Your Eyes

The best way to stop rubbing your eyes is to address the causes that are making you rub your eyes in the first place. The best treatment for rubbing your eyes depends on what exactly is causing your condition.

Important: If you feel like rubbing your eyes all the time, it’s a good idea to see an eye doctor for a complete eye exam. Many conditions that cause itchy eyes are easier to manage if you catch them early.

woman with Afro hairstyle lying back resting her eyes with colourful light strips washing over her
  • Rest your eyes – Reduce your screen time to prevent eye strain and manage dry eye disease more easily.
  • Avoid allergy triggers – If you’re allergic to pollen, pet dander, or some other allergen, avoid it as much as possible. Keep in mind that certain allergy medications, like antihistamines, may cause dry eye disease.
  • Apply a warm or cold compress – A compress can hydrate your eyes and help in the treatment of dry eyes. Check our post on warm versus cold eye compresses to find out when it’s best to use each.
  • Drink more water – Water is an essential component of the tear film. Drinking plenty of water may help prevent dry eye disease.
  • Wear sunglasses – Sunburn can cause sore and itchy eyes. Wearing sunglasses with good UV protection can help protect your eyes on days you spend outdoors in bright sun.
  • Eat a healthy diet for your eyes – Carrots, blueberries, leafy greens, and fish are just some of the foods that support eye health and that may prevent some of the causes of dry, itchy eyes. Discover more foods good for your eyes on our blog.
  • Take an eye health supplement – An eye health supplement like SightC or Blueberry Gummies provides antioxidants, lutein, zeaxanthin, and other essential nutrients that can soothe dry eyes and help your eyes fight infection, inflammation, and stay healthy.
SightC and Blueberry Gummies moderate dry eye bundle

The Wrap Up

Rubbing your eyes is not a habit you want to encourage. Hard or excessive eye rubbing especially can be bad for your eyes.

If you feel like rubbing your eyes, pause to consider what may be causing the itching. Often, you’ll find that your eyes are tired and dry and in need of a bit more rest and care.

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