November 5, 2013

Vigorous eye rubbing is generally discouraged by eye care professionals. It can lead to abrasions on the eye, bruising of the ocular area (if rubbing is especially forceful), temporary eye pressure increase, and even a reduction of the elasticity of the eye lids! While most eye rubbing among the general populations is accepted as relatively benign, unfortunately, a more severe condition can stem from this discouraged habit: keratoconus.

Keratoconus presents as a thinning and gradual conical bulging of the cornea, the clear “cap” of the eye. This condition is progressive and can lead to significant enough damage to the ocular surface that surgical treatments may be advised; these surgical treatments may include a corneal transplant. Vision may decrease and blur and light sensitivity can increase as keratoconus progresses. Because keratoconus is volatile and progressive, symptoms may range in occurrence and severity; they include: blurred/distorted vision, light sensitivity, decreased night vision, sudden decrease or clouding of vision, and frequent refractive prescription changes.

An optometrist or ophthalmologist can ascertain and diagnose keratoconus through a routine eye exam, though the severity of the irregular astigmatic curvature of the eye may be tested with additional tests not performed on routine examinations. Monitoring for progression is important for patients with keratoconus as there are options for treatment that are not as invasive as a corneal transplant (examples include Intacs corneal implants and riboflavin crosslinking; though, note that the latter treatment is still in clinical trials in the US).

Habitual eye rubbing alone may not be the sole factor in the development of keratoconus; even so, avoiding habits associated with increased risk of a degenerative disorder’s development can be your best method for decreasing your likelihood of developing said disorder. While the exact cause of keratoconus is unknown, risk factors for the disorder include excessive eye rubbing, prolonged contact lens wear, other conditions (including retinitis pigmentosa, retinopathy of prematurity, Leber’s congenital amaurosis, and Down Syndrome), and a familial history of keratoconus.

An excellent resource for information on keratoconus and its treatment is: This site provides informational videos and updates on keratoconus.

If you are concerned about the health of your cornea and/or if you have noticed a significant decrease in your visual capabilities, an eye examination with your eye care professional is advisable. While keratoconus is not an incredibly common disorder in the general population, it is estimated to occur to some degree in about 1 out of every 2,000 people. Any of our four qualified eye care professionals can evaluate your corneas for keratoconus during your annual eye examination. Call for an appointment today if you have any concerns or would like an evaluation!