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Is it safe to rub my eyes?

Dear Alice,

I find it relaxing, along with rubbing my face, to rub my eyeballs (with my eyelids closed, of course). It feels good to massage the muscles and squeeze out the air that builds up back there. Is this safe? Do I risk deforming my eyeballs and changing my vision?

Thanks,
Tense Eyeballs

Dear Tense Eyeballs, 

It’s smart to keep an eye on this massaging habit—rubbing your eyes can lead to eye damage, alter your vision, and leave you more susceptible to illness. While there are ways to touch your eyes more carefully, there are also alternative methods to alleviate your eye tension. Read on to learn more about the complications of rubbing your eyes and discover other ways you can make your peepers feel good! 

It might be helpful to first think more about why your eyes are so tense—perhaps there’s more behind your need to massage them than immediately meets the eye. Figuring out the origin of your eye tension may help you find the best way to combat your symptoms. Here are some things to reflect on to help you get to the bottom of it. Do you rub your eyes because they feel itchy or dry? If so, do they feel more irritated during certain seasons? Allergies and different sensitivities to air conditioning or dry weather may make massaging your eyes feel especially satisfying. Are your eyes sore or tired from staring at a screen? If so, it can be helpful to increase or decrease the brightness so that you can see better and strain your eyes less. You might also consider taking screen breaks more frequently to give your eyes a rest. 

Whatever the reason, rubbing your eyes can cause damage. Your eyeballs are delicate, so repeated rubbing may thin or change the shape of your cornea (the clear, domed surface of the eyeball). Damage to the cornea can in turn affect vision—if you get carried away with massaging your eyeballs, your eyesight may be negatively impacted by blurriness or distortion of images. If you’re concerned about whether you’ve damaged your corneas, you might consider speaking with an ophthalmologist (eye doctor) about the state of your eye health. 

Aside from damage, you might also want to be wary of rubbing your eyes given that fingers aren’t always necessarily the cleanest. When someone sneezes or coughs, their germs are cast into the air and onto surfaces. This means that if you touch something and then touch your eyes, you may be introducing viruses from the outside world into your body and putting yourself at risk for illness and infection. 

Because of these potential downsides, it’s recommended to try other methods for relaxation and relief before resorting to your fingers. You might instead find it helpful to use eye drops, lay a cold compress over your eyes, invest in an air purifier, take a shower, or take the aforementioned screen break, when possible. But if you absolutely must touch your eyes, it’s good practice to wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water first and only use light pressure. 

Additionally, if you just can’t get enough of the massage sensation, there are still ways to find relaxation through this route if you change your target area. Though rubbing your eyes is typically warned against, massaging the area around the eyes can be both luxuriating and beneficial. If you delicately rub your temples or under-eye area, it's possible to stimulate blood flow to the eye, which has been linked to improved vision. You may also like using a tool specifically made to massage the area around the eyes and face. If you’ve adopted these new methods and still find that eye soreness persists, you might consider speaking with a health care professional to find the root cause of your eyeball woes. 

Hopefully, you can set your eyes on new ways for relaxation that don’t come at a cost to your corneas! 

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Last updated Feb 09, 2024
Originally published Dec 30, 2010

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