Our eyes hold the beautiful sights of the World. Yet, we often overlook this fact and subject them to undue pressure. Unfortunately, excessive eye rubbing can cause a condition known as keratoconus. Keratoconus involves the thinning and bulging of the cornea, the transparent front part of the eye. This progressive condition can cause distorted vision, increased light sensitivity, and difficulties wearing regular contact lenses. Understanding the impact our actions can have on our eye health is crucial.
In recent years, researchers at the National Library of Medicine have found rubbing eyes to be one of the most significant risk factors for keratoconus. This is because the Chronic rubbing of the eyes leads to a distorted cornea, which can ultimately cause permanent vision loss.
Even beyond that, rubbing the eye ensues a whole lot of problems, from increasing the pressure in the eye to increasing the risk for an infection or irritation. Thus, we have compiled this blog to highlight the significant risks of rubbing your eyes, especially if you have keratoconus. Let’s first learn what is keratoconus.
What is Keratoconus?
Keratoconus is a condition that affects the shape of the cornea- the transparent front part of teh eye. Characterised by its progressive thinning and bulging, Keratoconus can lead to distorted vision, increased light sensitivity, and difficulty wearing regular contact lenses. This irregularity or damage in the cornea’s natural shape leads to poor light reflection, i.e., vision impairment. This condition may also lead to increased or newfound sensitivity to light.
Keratoconus usually impacts both eyes. However, the level of effect can be different for both, so the vision in one eye can be worse than the other. It is most commonly seen in children. The first symptom/sign of keratoconus occurs in children. From then onwards, the disorder may worsen over the years.
Here are the most common symptoms of keratoconus:
- Blurred or distorted vision.
- Increased sensitivity to bright light and glare
- Frequent changes in eyeglass power
As part of preventive measures in the early stages of keratoconus, vision problems might be corrected with glasses or soft contact lenses. In the following stages, rigid, gas-permeable contact lenses or other types of lenses, such as scleral lenses, are used to treat vision complications.
Then Corneal cross-linking (CXL) is done, which involves applying riboflavin (vitamin B2) eye drops to the cornea and then exposing it to ultraviolet (UV) light. CXL can strengthen the cornea and halt the progression of keratoconus.
In severe cases where other treatments are ineffective, a corneal transplant may be necessary to replace the damaged cornea.
What are the different stages of Keratoconus
The progression of keratoconus is typically divided into four stages based on the severity of corneal changes and visual impairment. These stages are:
Stage 1: Early or Mild Keratoconus
At this stage, eyesight is not significantly affected. You may not even experience noticeable symptoms or any other visual deficiency.
- Mild thinning of the cornea.
- Slight changes in vision, such as blurred or distorted vision.
- Often diagnosed during routine eye exams.
Stage 2: Moderate Keratoconus
At the moderate stage, the corneal bulging gets more noticeable. This distortion leads to a more advanced level of visual impairment than the first stage.
- Further corneal thinning and bulging.
- Increasing astigmatism, causing irregularities in vision.
- Frequent changes in eyeglasses or contact lens prescriptions.
Stage 3: Advanced Keratoconus
Vision impairment worsens due to continued thinning & bulging out of the cornea.
- Pronounced corneal bulging and thinning.
- Severe astigmatism and distorted vision.
- Difficulty with everyday activities like reading or driving.
- Rigid gas permeable (RGP) contact lenses may be required for vision correction.
The cornea may also develop scars or damages its outer surface, causing further visual impairments, enhanced light sensitivity, and an itchy & burning sensation.
Stage 4: Severe or End-Stage Keratoconus
- Extreme corneal thinning and irregular shape.
- Significant vision impairment and sensitivity to light.
- Intolerance to contact lenses.
- It may require surgical interventions such as corneal transplantation.
An eye doctor carefully examines your eyes and gives suitable cures to the patients. Crosslinking may be done at any stage once it is proven that the keratoconus is getting worse.
However, the condition may become very severe, where the cornea is scarred and damaged. It might also lead to hydrops, the sudden development of a fluid-filled blister within the cornea. The eye doctor may suggest a corneal transplant (keratoplasty) in these cases.
Top 5 Reasons Rubbing Itchy Eyes is the Biggest Risk Factor for Keratoconus
Here are the top 5 reasons why rubbing itchy eyes can worsen keratoconus and lead to permanent vision loss.
1. Exerts Excessive Pressure on Corneal Structure:
The cornea, a vital dome-shaped layer at the front of the eye, is crucial in focusing light onto the retina, ensuring clear vision. However, constantly rubbing itchy eyes exerts unnecessary pressure on the cornea. This repetitive friction gradually weakens the cornea’s internal structure, increasing its vulnerability to deformities such as keratoconus. Protecting the cornea’s integrity is essential for optimal visual clarity and health.
2. Damaging the Cellular Structure of the Cornea:
The cornea relies on specialised cells known as keratocytes to maintain its health and strength. However, the act of rubbing the eyes can lead to the demise of these crucial cells. Unfortunately, once lost, the keratocytes cannot regenerate rapidly enough to shield the cornea from external pressure, leaving it vulnerable to the onset of keratoconus. It’s essential to be mindful of this potential consequence and prioritise gentle eye care practices to safeguard the integrity of your cornea.
3. Thinning and Weakening:
The cornea must remain in shape for your vision to be free of any impairment. In this regard, the constant rubbing motion causes the cornea to become thin and weak.
Moreover, excessive rubbing can deform the cornea’s fragile structure of collagen fibres, leading to disturbances and continued thinning.
4. Increased Eye Pressure:
Rubbing your eyes can temporarily increase intraocular pressure—the pressure inside your eyes. This sudden elevation in pressure can strain the cornea, mainly if it occurs frequently or with significant force.
5. Allergic Reactions:
Excessive eye rubbing, often caused by allergies, can result in itching, burning, and irritation. This persistent rubbing releases histamines and inflammatory chemicals, increasing itching and redness. The repeated act of itching and rubbing can trigger chronic inflammation in the eyes, weakening the cornea and potentially contributing to the development of keratoconus.
It is essential to maintain good eye hygiene, seek medical attention for allergies or irritations, and adopt healthy alternatives to rubbing, such as applying a cold compress or eye drops.
How to Stop Rubbing Eyes Incessantly?
If you find yourself rubbing your eyes incessantly, breaking this habit is essential to protect your eye health. Here are some key pointers to help you stop rubbing your eyes:
Understand why you rub your eyes. It could be due to allergies, dryness, eye strain, or fatigue. Identifying triggers will help you address the root cause.
Practice good hygiene:
Clean your hands regularly with soap and water. This reduces the risk of transferring dirt, allergens, or irritants to your eyes when you touch them.
Dry eyes can be a common reason for eye rubbing. Use lubricating eye drops or artificial tears to keep your eyes adequately moisturised. If the dryness persists, consult an eye care professional for further evaluation.
Allergies often lead to itchy eyes and the urge to rub them. Take necessary steps to manage your allergies, such as avoiding allergens, using antihistamines or nasal sprays as prescribed, and keeping your living space clean.
Minimize eye strain:
Eye strain can make your eyes feel tired and itchy. Take regular breaks from screen time, practice the 20-20-20 rule (look away from the screen every 20 minutes at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds), and ensure proper lighting and ergonomics in your workspace.
Use a cold compress:
If your eyes feel irritated or itchy, apply a cold compress or a clean, damp cloth to your closed eyes. This can provide relief and reduce the urge to rub.
Seek professional help:
If you’re struggling to break the habit of rubbing your eyes or experiencing persistent eye discomfort, consult an eye care professional. They can identify underlying issues and suggest appropriate treatments or interventions.
Cooling Eye Pad
Putting a cooling eye pad or a washcloth on the eyes will ease the burning sensation & itchy feel. Also, warming the eye mask and using eyelid scrubs to keep them clean help reduce irritation in the eye.
Use stress busters:
Occupying your hands with other tasks can help break the habit of constantly rubbing your eyes. Some practical ways to do this are squeezing a stress ball or playing with a fidget toy
When To See An Eye Specialist?
It is essential to seek professional help if you experience persistent symptoms or discomfort, especially with eye-related concerns. Discover relief for keratoconus at an expert clinic that specialises in treating this progressive eye condition that causes thinning and bulging of the cornea. Don’t let keratoconus hold you back—take the first step towards better vision by visiting or booking an appointment with us today.
In case of any keratoconus complications, please feel free to reach out to us.