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Why You Should Stop Rubbing Your Eyes

No matter how good it might feel, especially during allergy season, eye doctors warn against rubbing your eyes. It can be hard to break the habit, but knowing that it can lower your risk of spreading infections, including COVID-19 and pink eye, offers one great incentive. Another incentive is knowing that chronic eye rubbing can weaken or distort your cornea, the protective covering of your eye, possibly leading to a condition called keratoconus.

David Meyer, OD, a contact lens specialist at John A. Moran Eye Center, offers this background and advice.

Why Rubbing Your Eyes Can Be Dangerous

When sick people cough or talk, they can release virus droplets from their mouth right into another person’s face. You're most likely to inhale these droplets through mucous membranes in your mouth or nose. But the droplets can also enter through the membranes protecting your eyes—specifically the conjunctiva, a thin, transparent layer of tissue that lines the inner eyelid and covers the white part of the eye. That means viruses and infections can be spread if someone rubs an infected eye and then touches someone else. If you wear contact lenses, it's also important to note that you may touch your eyes more than the average person.

If You Must Touch Your Eyes, Follow These Hygiene Tips

If you have the urge to itch or rub your eye, or even to adjust your glasses or administer eye medicine, follow these tips:

  • Always wash your hands first with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Use a tissue instead of your fingers if touching your eye directly.
  • Consider adding moisturizing drops to your eye routine to avoid dry eyes and less rubbing.
  • Talk to your doctor if your eyes are itchy due to allergies. They can recommend specific types of drops to reduce irritation and eye rubbing.