Surgeon explains 'innocent' habit most of us do that could lead to vision loss

Optical Instrument
-Credit: (Image: Getty Images)

A leading surgeon has issued a stark warning about a common habit that could lead to sight loss.

Dr Mark Wilkins, a consultant ophthalmic surgeon at OCL Vision, has cautioned against frequently rubbing your eyes, a practice he says "we are all guilty of". While it may seem like an innocent habit, it could actually be doing damage to eyes and could have terrible consequences.

As reported by Wales Online, he warned: "We are all guilty of rubbing our eyes from time to time and as long as your hands are clean and it is not often, you won't encounter any issues. However, if it develops into a habit, this could put your eyes at risk of infection or even long term damage to your sight."

He also explained why we might develop this habit, stating: "You are more likely to feel the urge to rub your eyes if you suffer from seasonal allergies, or have a foreign body in them such as a piece of dirt or an eyelash. Conditions such as dry eye disease can also make you want to itch your eyes."

"So can blepharitis, a malfunction of grease glands in the eye lids that causes the lids to become inflamed and for dried grease to fall into the eye and irritate it. In every scenario, rubbing your eyes provides relief by temporarily stimulating tear production to clear away anything aggravating the eye.

Tired teen girl rubbing dry irritable eyes feel eye strain tension migraine after computer work, exhausted young woman worker student relieving headache pain, bad weak blurry vision, eyesight problem
Rubbing eyes should be avoided, according to one surgeon -Credit:Getty Images/iStockphoto

"It also stimulates nerve endings, giving you a pleasant sensation that provides relief from whatever is causing the irritation. What you might not be aware of is the damage that this could be doing to your eyes under the surface."

However, he warned that "frequently" rubbing your eyes with too much pressure can lead to damage of the cornea - the dome-shaped surface at the front of your eye.

He said: "There is strong evidence that eye rubbing contributes to the development and progression of a serious corneal condition known as keratoconus. Patients with keratoconus can go on to develop astigmatism that requires glasses, or hard contact lenses, to correct the vision. The condition can be halted but not reversed."

It could also lead to unwanted infections. Dr Wilkins said: "In the short term, rubbing your eyes allows any bacteria on your hands to pass into the eyes. Rubbing your eyes allows bacteria and viruses on your hands to transfer into the eye. This can lead to conjunctivitis."

"Viral or bacterial conjunctivitis can manifest as 'pink eye' and cause the eye to become inflamed, sore and crusty. To make things worse, if you develop conjunctivitis and don't immediately wash your hands after rubbing them, every surface such as a door handle that you subsequently touch will also become contaminated."

"Other people who touch those surfaces and then touch their own eyes can become infected." So, instead of rubbing your eyes, what is the suggested alternative?

Dr Wilkins recommended: "Lubricating eye drops are a good place to start, these can be used to treat dry and tired eyes, as well as flush out any foreign bodies. Anti-allergy drops for hay fever can also be effective. Opticrom, also known as sodium cromoglycate, is available without prescription, but you can see your GP for a more comprehensive breakdown of solutions."

Should you have an issue with constantly rubbing your eyes, the best tip according to Dr Wilkins is to pay regular visits to an optometrist.

He concluded: "The best advice if you have developed a habit for rubbing your eyes is to make sure you are regularly seeing an optometrist. They will be able to tell you the damage you are causing, but also get to the root cause of the problem."

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