Hay fever – excessive eye rubbing may lead to serious complications

As the temperatures rise in coming months, so will people’s sensitivity to weed pollens, trees and grass. For some, inflammation of the sinuses can be a serious nuisance, posing a serious threat to their health and quality of life. Resisting the urge to rub one’s eyes may be critical, an expert has warned, as excessive friction may lead to long-term complications.

Lenstore eye health expert, Sujata Paul, warned: “If there is a foreign body, such as an eyelash or a speck of dirt in your eye, rubbing [them] to deal with the itching can cause the foreign object to scratch the cornea.”

Though rare, some abrasions are left untreated long enough to cause infections known as corneal ulcers.

With this comes a risk of scarring that can significantly interfere with vision and eventually lead to blindness.

“Eye rubbing can also lead to the onset of more serious eye diseases such as keratoconus,” explained Sujata.

What is keratoconus?

In keratoconus, the cornea gradually bulges outwards into a cone shape, potentially leading to blurred vision and sensitivity to light.

The cone-like shape of the eyes can thwart their ability to focus properly too, explained the expert.

In the early stages, the condition is often ignored because vision tends to remain unaffected, but signs of keratoconus may still be apparent to an optometrist.

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“It is important to remember that keratoconus does not cause blindness,” says the Moorfield Eye Hospital.

Left unchecked, however, it may cause further changes in shape, and thinning of the cornea, and in advanced stages, scarring causes loss of transparency of the cornea.

If the eye’s ability to focus becomes impaired the use of contact lenses may offer relief.

An alternative intervention, known as corneal cross-linking, may also stop the disease from getting worse.

The procedure is effective in approximately 94 percent of patients with a single 30-minute outpatient procedure.

In very advanced cases, however, contact lenses may fail to improve vision, warranting a corneal transplant may be needed.

Limiting contact between the hands and the eyes is ideal for avoiding these risks, suggests Sujata.

Aside from increasing a person’s chances of developing keratoconus, vigorous eye rubbing may also transfer germs from the hands onto the eye and spread infections or diseases.

What’s more, when an irritant like pollen enters the eye, it is not this initial contact which causes itchiness, but the release of histamine that irritates the nerve endings.

The eye then turns red as a result of the vessels dilating and swelling to fight off the irritant.

Though rubbing the eyes may seem like a natural reflex, it may in fact enhance itchiness.

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