Rubbing your eyes can mean many things. You might have an eye infection, allergies, or another health condition. Eye rubbing might also be a reflex or habit.

You should avoid rubbing your eyes because you can damage them if you rub too hard or too often.

There are several different health conditions that can cause you to rub your eyes. These include:

Eye infection

Conjunctivitis, or pink eye, is a common infection that makes your eyes itch. You usually get it from bacteria or a virus on your fingers that is transmitted when you touch your eye. The infection often causes your eye to turn pink or red. Another common symptom is yellow or clear liquid on your lashes or in the corners of your eyes.

This infection doesn’t usually cause pain, but you may have an itching feeling that causes you to rub your eyes.

Conjunctivitis is highly contagious and it’s spread easily by coming into contact with someone who is infected.

Allergies

Some people who have allergies experience itchy eyes, causing them to rub their eyes.

One study found that rubbing your eyes when exposed to an allergen causes you to feel the need to rub them more.

Other symptoms that go along with allergies are sneezing, watery eyes, and a stuffy nose. Some people have seasonal allergies due to what is growing outside. Others can be allergic to food, insect stings, or medications. Some additional causes include:

  • Blepharitis is caused when the eyelids are inflamed because oil glands are clogged. Some of the symptoms might include itchy or swollen eyes and crusted eyelashes.
  • Eyestrain is caused when your eyes are tired after looking really hard at something. This can cause burning or itching.
  • Dry eyes are caused when your eyes aren’t producing enough tears. This can cause your eyes to feel itchy.

The common cold and sinusitis can also make your eyes itch, as can wearing contact lenses or having a foreign object in your eye.

Rubbing too hard or too frequently might damage the lens of your eye or the cornea. This could result in vision impairment or an infection that needs medical attention. You should call your doctor right away if you experience:

  • eye pain
  • light sensitivity
  • reduced vision
  • blurry vision
  • redness or inflammation
  • headache
  • nausea
  • fatigue

These could be symptoms of eye damage and should be evaluated right away.

The best way to stop rubbing your eyes is to treat the underlying cause that is making them itch. Treatment can include:

  • Over-the-counter medication: Saline or eye drops can cleanse your eyes and flush out any dirt that might be causing irritation.
  • Prescription medication: A doctor will have to prescribe medicine to treat conjunctivitis. You might also need medication or shots if you have allergies.

You can also apply a warm compress to your eyes to relieve irritation.

Try these tips if you’re rubbing your eyes as a habit, instead of as a reaction to a symptom:

  • Become aware of what you are doing with your hands. Resist the urge to rub your eyes.
  • Wear gloves or mittens when you are finding it hard to keep your fingers from your face. Having something covering your fingers will make the rubbing difficult.
  • Find something else to do with your hands. You could squeeze a stress ball or rub a smooth rock.

See your doctor if you've had prolonged symptoms of dry eyes, including red, irritated, tired, or painful eyes. Your doctor can take steps to determine what's bothering your eyes or refer you to a specialist.

Be sure to keep your hands clean. This will help keep germs from spreading to your face and your eyes.