Abnormal Eye Rubbing

What Families Need to Know

EYE RUBBING is abnormal when it lasts too long, or occurs too frequently, or uses too much force, or keeps recurring over a long period.

  • Even gentle rubbing causes the pressure inside the eye to more than double. Hard rubbing results in pressure which can be more than 10 times normal.
  • The cornea may become damaged when it is squeezed between rubbing force and the high pressure inside the eye.
  • The damaged cornea may become weakened and less resistant to the pressure inside the eye. The weakened cornea can bulge forward into an irregular conical shape.
  • Eye rubbing pressure may be high enough to cut blood to the back of the eye and cause temporary vision loss.
  • When the cornea is very thin, (e.g. in conical cornea), rubbing may cause the cornea to rupture, with the risk of corneal scarring and loss of vision.
  • Eye rubbing pressure after any type of eye operation such as corneal graft, refractive or cataract surgery, or a cross linking procedure, may damage the eye.
  • Rubbing can transfer germs to the eye, and increase the risk of infection.
  • The most harmful time for rubbing can be on waking and after removal of contact lenses. 7info@brienholdenvision.org


If possible, it is better not to rub at all. Apart from causing soreness and redness of the eyes and lids, rubbing may actually increase itchiness. To reduce itch and irritation, maintain all forms of allergy avoidance and treatment.

To reduce the temptation to rub, follow your practitioner’s advice for lash hygiene and management of dry eye, as well as other conditions that cause irritation. Sometimes

stress management can help.


  1. McMonnies CW. Mechanisms of rubbing-related corneal trauma in keratoconus. Cornea 2009; 28: 607-615.
  2. Nash IS, Greene PR, Foster CS. Comparison of mechanical properties of keratoconus and normal corneas. Exp Eye Res 1982; 35: 413-423.
  3. Kenney MC, Brown DJ. The cascade hypothesis of keratoconus. Cont Lens Ant Eye 2003; 26: 139-146.
  4. Koenig SB, Smith RW. Keratoconus and corneal hydrops associated with compulsive eye rubbing. Refract Corn Surg 1993; 9: 383-384.
  5. Boger WP, Petersen RA, Robb RM. Keratoconus and acute hydrops in mentally retarded patients with congenital rubella syndrome. Am J Ophthalmol 1981; 91: 231-233.
  6. Cooke CA, Frazer DG, Jackson AJ. Corneal graft and cataract surgery in patients with moderate to severe intellectual disability. J App Res Intell Disab 2006; 19: 383-390.
  7. McMonnies CW, Boneham GC. Keratoconus, allergy, itch, eye-rubbing and hand dominance. Clin Exper Optom 2003; 86: 376-384.


Developed by Charles McMonnies.  : Highlights of Ophthalmology