The hidden dangers of chronic and vigorous eye rubbing
Eye specialists from the Save Sight Institute in Sydney have warned that chronic eye-rubbing could be damaging your eyes.
Growing evidence indicates that constant and vigorous eye-rubbing can bring on, or worsen, a relatively common ocular condition called keratoconus, which affects around one in every 2,000 people.
Keratoconus blurs vision by thinning the cornea, the transparent front part of the eye. As the cornea thins, it begins to distort and bulge, and becomes cone-shaped rather than the usual round shape. Significant loss of vision can result as the cornea is primarily responsible for the eye’s focusing power.
In its early stages, vision may be corrected with spectacles although there may be an increased sensitivity to light. As the condition advances, vision may no longer be adequately corrected due to the high irregularity of the cornea.
Both eyes are usually affected, but may respond in different ways, and 20% lead to severe visual impairment. As the condition continues to deteriorate, a corneal graft may be required.
According to Clinical Professor Stephanie Watson from the Save Sight Institute
“Eye rubbing is often caused by allergies, and this can become a problematic habit. In chronic eye rubbers, more severe keratoconus often corresponds with the dominant hand.”
Twenty-four year old Darren Wright is one person who found out the hard way that vigorous and prolonged eye rubbing can have unfortunate consequences. Recently diagnosed with Keratoconus, he said “I didn’t know that just rubbing my eyes was so bad for, and especially that it has contributed to my deteriorating vision”.
The precise cause of keratoconus is unknown. It is thought that genetic factors may contribute, and that eye rubbing can lead to eye trauma, as well as trigger the release of enzymes which weaken the cornea.
Mr Larry Kornhauser, President of Keratoconus Australia is concerned about the lack of public awareness of the risks of eye rubbing.
“The Association regularly hears from young people with progressive keratoconus who ask why their vision deteriorates so quickly,” he said. “We ask them if they have itchy eyes and if they rub their eyes vigorously and most say ‘yes, why?’. They get upset when told that eye rubbing is contra-indicated with keratoconus as it can trigger or accelerate the disease. They (or their parents) always say, ‘why didn’t anyone tell us?’ ”
Keratoconus Australia believes that publicising the effects of eye rubbing could be a simple but significant step in the fight to minimize the impact of keratoconus in the community. Eye-carers and allergists have a responsibility to inform their patients of the impact of eye rubbing and offer effective treatments for itchy eyes.
Researchers from the Save Sight Institute are working hard to find new and improved ways of treating this eye disorder.
In progressive cases of keratoconus, a technique known as ‘corneal cross-linking’ is commonly used, using UV light and a photosensitiser to strengthen chemical bonds in the cornea, ultimately with the aim of halting the progressive degeneration.
The Ocular Repair Group at Save Sight Institute, under the leadership of Professor Watson, has recently launched a sophisticated web-based software platform to collect data across a large number of real-life clinical settings.
“This allows us to analyse high volume patient outcomes from the procedure” says Prof Watson “and this important information plays a direct role in improving the way in which we care for patients affected by keratoconus, now and in the future”.
The Corneal Disease Group at Save Sight Institute, under the leadership of Professor Gerard Sutton and Dr Con Petsoglou, have had considerable success in identifying an important protein which is expressed by people affected by keratoconus, and are working towards possible future treatments targeted at this protein.
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