If you have lived in Atlanta for any length of time, you are no doubt familiar with pollen. In the spring, when that yellow dust is heavy in the air and your eyes start to get itchy and watery, it is only natural to start rubbing your eyes to find relief. This simple reflexive action stimulates the flow of tears, lubricating dry eyes while flushing away dust and other irritants. Rubbing your eyes can even be relaxing, since pressing down on the eyeball massages the vagus nerve, which has been found to slow down the heart rate and help relieve stress. However, even though perfectly fine in moderation, excessive rubbing of the eyes can be far more dangerous than most people realize. Here are just a few important facts to keep in mind the next time you feel the urge to rub away that irritating itch.
Rubbing Your Eyes Exposes Them to Bacteria
Your hands carry far more germs than any other part of your body, and these germs are all too easily transferred to the warm, moist surface of your eyes when your hands make contact with them. Once transferred, these bacteria can often result in serious eye infections like conjunctivitis and a host of irritating symptoms, such as irritation, discomfort, redness, and excessive discharge. Each infection is unique but most require prompt medical treatment to avoid serious eye damage.
Rubbing Your Eyes Can Damage Your Cornea
When dust or a foreign body, like an eyelash, becomes stuck in the eye, the natural impulse is to try to rub it out. However, this may actually scratch the eye’s outer surface, or cornea, creating an open sore which could develop into a corneal ulcer. Common symptoms of corneal ulcers are redness, intense pain due to nerve exposure, blurred vision, light sensitivity, tearing and/or discharge. If left untreated, corneal ulcers could potentially lead to loss of vision or the eye itself, so it is imperative that you consult your ophthalmologist to avoid permanent damage.
Rubbing Your Eyes Can Distort Their Shape
Rubbing is perhaps most dangerous to those who have certain pre-existing eye conditions. People with progressive myopia (or nearsightedness) may find that chronic rubbing can, over time, actually worsen their eyesight. In susceptible individuals, this may lead to a gradual thinning of the cornea, and as the cornea weakens it becomes less round and more football-shaped. This is known as keratoconus, and is a serious condition that can lead to distorted vision and ultimately the need for a corneal transplant.
Excessive eye rubbing, whether due to chronic dryness, itchiness, or merely habit, should be addressed to avoid unpleasant consequences. If something is stuck in your eye, avoid using your fingers and instead attempt to flush it out with sterile saline or artificial tears. Eyes that are chronically dry and itchy are best treated with artificial tears or anti-histamine eye drops. If you have any concerns about the health of your eyes, or would like to schedule a regular vision screening or a recommended comprehensive eye exam, please contact Dr. William Segal or Dr. Marc Lay today to make an appointment. Be sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ for more information on how to keep your vision clear.