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Busting Common Eye Myths – Can rubbing your eyes damage them?


“My patients are often surprised when I tell them that rubbing their eyes can be harmful. Patients who present to my clinic with blurred or distorted vision are annoyed to learn that rubbing their eyes can lead to a serious eye condition called ‘keratoconus’. They want to know why, no one has ever told them that rubbing their eyes can be harmful”, says Professor Watson.

Professor Stephanie Watson is a corneal surgeon and is also chair of RANZCO’s Public Health Committee. She has combined her interests in corneal diseases, such as keratoconus, and public health to warn people not to rub their eyes to prevent keratoconus.

Keratoconus affects 1 in 2000 people and is caused by thinning and distortion of the cornea, the eyes’ window. People with keratoconus typically require glasses or contact lenses to see clearly and occasionally will require a corneal transplant operation.

Eye rubbing is thought to weaken the structure of the cornea which can trigger or accelerate keratoconus.

“For some people eye rubbing is a habit. It can even slow your heart rate which can make people feel more relaxed. To stop eye rubbing it is important to find out why a person is eye rubbing and address the cause,” says Professor Watson.

The onset of keratoconus usually occurs between the ages of 8 and 45 years old but is most likely to present between the ages of 16 and 30 years.

For further information, visit Keratoconus Australia or speak to your optometrist or ophthalmologist.

See also: Hands off your eyes. The hidden dangers of chronic and vigorous eye rubbing.

Last updated: November 29, 2018

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