Ask the Optician


Is Rubbing Your Eyes Bad for You?

By Isabella Sara Novack
Reviewed by Beck Jinette
Beck Jinette

Reviewed by

Beck Jinette
Beck has over 17 years of experience in eyecare and holds her Certificate IV in Dispensing in Australia.
If you rub your eyes, you’re not alone. That’s why it’s important to understand the risks and how to stop!
woman rubbing eyes

Whether it’s because they’re dry, itchy or stinging, rubbing your eyes feels great. Everyone does it, which is why it may come as a surprise that, unfortunately, it’s better not to. Luckily, there are some alternatives that are much safer and feel just as good.

Why you rub your eyes

There are many reasons why people rub their eyes, it’s such a natural instinct that even very young children do it. Eye rubbing when tired is one of the most common as it provides temporary relief from the annoying eye strain that comes with exhaustion.

Allergy symptoms are another reason why you might find yourself eye rubbing, with hay fever and allergies to pets being the most frequent.

That said, anything that causes dry eyes, eye irritation or itchy eyes can lead to rubbing your eyes to find relief, such as the common cold or light sensitivity.

Furthermore, chronic eye rubbing is common self-soothing behaviours in adults and children alike.

This is because it stimulates the vagus nerve, a long cranial nerve that is responsible for regulating many organ functions– amongst which your heart rate and blood pressure.

Since these are affected by your fight or flight response, stimulating this nerve can be a good way to interrupt panic attacks and relieve stress.


The vagus nerve gets its name from the word vagabond. This is because it’s an incredibly long nerve with multiple meandering branches through your body, as if it were wandering around.  

Why you shouldn't rub your eyes

icons of eye rubbing side effects

Rubbing your eyes is bad for your eye health for many reasons. The act of rubbing itself can cause broken blood vessels, resulting in bloodshot eyes. It can also lead to droopy eyelids and dark circles under your eyes

It can disrupt blood flow and increase eye pressure, which puts people with glaucoma at risk for damage to the optical nerve.

If you rub your eyes because you have a foreign body inside them, this can lead to scratching your cornea which in more severe cases is a serious condition that can cause permanent vision loss.

And that’s not all, in susceptible individuals with shortsightedness caused by progressive myopia, rubbing eyes can make the condition worse.

Continuous eye rubbing can even lead to the thinning of the cornea, retinal tear and retinal detachment.

It can cause eye infections such as conjunctivitis and pink eye as although virus and bacteria are generally contracted through your nose and mouth, they can also enter your body through the membranes protecting your eyes.

And  although the act of rubbing may be initially soothing for allergy sufferers, the relief is only temporary.

You’ve probably heard of antihistamines, a type of medication used to treat allergies. They work against the allergy symptoms triggered by histamine, a chemical compound produced by the body.

Rubbing your eyes can actually release histamine, making the allergies worse and giving you another good reason to keep your hands away from your eyes.

How to stop excessive eye rubbing

If you’re worried about not being able to resist the urge to rub your eyes, don’t fret. There’s a lot of ways to relieve the symptoms that lead to eye rubbing in the first place.

Using artificial tears (eye drops) regularly will keep the eyes hydrated and help flush out allergens and foreign bodies. If your allergies are very bad, your doctor might even prescribe antihistamine eye drops or mast cell stabilisers to help with the itchy eyes.

woman putting in eye drops

If you’re rubbing your eyes as stress relief, there are alternatives to help avoid rubbing. You could consider buying a fidget toy instead, which will also help you be more mindful about what you’re doing with your hands to avoid rubbing out of habit.

Trying to keep your hands away from your face can also help reduce rubbing out of habit, and if you really feel the need to rub, you could consider warm compresses to the eyes instead.

Your doctor can also prescribe steroid eye drops to help treat the symptoms that can lead to chronic eye rubbing.

When to see a doctor

Your eye health is important so if you find yourself engaging in excessive rubbing, it’s important to go to an eye doctor.

Not only can they identify the cause and provide solutions to help you stop rubbing, they can also check if your eye rubbing has worsened any pre-existing conditions.

eye doctor examining patient's eyes

Any time you experience eye or vision discomfort, you should seek professional help and get proper treatment. Regular check-ups with your local optician will keep your eyes healthy and your vision clear.

And if you still have doubts about eye rubbing or eye health, feel free to ask our in-house opticians about it. They’re here to clear things up!

Take care of your vision

Now that you know why rubbing your eyes is bad for you, it’s time to stop. Your eyes will be grateful and healthier.

Remember to take care of your vision, by treating your symptoms you’ll find your eyes feel so much better that you won’t even notice you’re not rubbing them!

Besides, eye health isn’t just important– it’s also fascinating. Come visit our Optical Centre to learn more, we cover all sorts of topics to help you stay informed.

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