It’s the kind of thing we tend to do without really noticing whenever we’re tired, our eyes are itchy or dry, or we get something stuck in them. It’s an automatic response to try to alleviate the issue. The trouble is that it’s likely to do more harm than good. Each time we touch our eyes, we’re introducing all kinds of germs from our fingers and whatever else we’ve touched.
A wide variety of microscopic organisms live on our skin. They make up an entire ecosystem referred to as “skin flora.” They aren’t all bad; some microorganisms are actually beneficial to our health. Others can cause infections or diseases if they get past the barrier of the skin, which is what makes the eyes such a convenient entry point for them. Germs stick to our skin any time we touch a surface, and they particularly become trapped under the fingernails where they can breed and spread to other surfaces.
The good news is that our eyes aren’t completely defenseless. Eyelashes aren’t just there to flutter at a crush, they keep out irritants. Blinking sweeps away debris that enters the eye. The tear film is a complex three-layer drainage system that keeps irritants away kind of like a moat around a castle. However, when we rub our eyes, we can create injuries to the cornea that give germs a way to get past our defenses.
We encourage our patients to avoid frequently touching their eyes, particularly those who wear contact lenses. On occasions when you need to, such as to put in those contacts or take them out, you can minimize the risk of infection or contamination by washing your hands with soap first and keeping your fingernails trimmed. Fingernail germs are so difficult to scrub away that they’re the main reason doctors and nurses wear medical gloves! (Fake nails aren’t exempt from this problem either.)
If you’re ever experiencing eye symptoms like redness, itchiness, watering, tenderness, or burning, that could mean an eye infection. Schedule an appointment so that we can help you fight the infection or determine if it’s something else, and try not to rub your eyes in the meantime!