Watch How You Rub: Warning On Eye Spikes

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28th October 2008, 09:50am - Views: 671

MEDIA RELEASE                         UNSW FACULTY OF


Watch how you rub: warning on eye spikes

Normal activities such as wearing swim goggles, sleeping face down or doing a gym

workout may contribute to glaucoma and other pressure-related eye diseases, a

new study has found. 

“The fluid pressure inside the eye increases - or spikes - during many everyday

activities," says Adjunct Professor Charles McMonnies, of the UNSW School of

Optometry and Vision Science, in a paper published in the journal Optometry and

Vision Science.

“Eye rubbing, yoga head stands, weightlifting, sleeping face down, playing

instruments like the trumpet and swimming laps are some of the many ways of

causing eye pressure spikes,” Professor McMonnies says. 

Any touching of the eye through the eyelids raises pressure: light touch causes a

small increase but firm touch can cause a spike three to five times normal pressure,

he says. 

Wiping a watery eye and removing eye make-up both increase eye pressure, partly

because they involve eye closure combined with lid contact. 

In the case of eye rubbing, the combined effects of eye closure and rubbing forces

on the eye can raise pressure to very high levels; strong rubbing may raise pressure

to 10 times normal levels. 

“Normally these pressure spikes are of little consequence and healthy eyes appear

to be unaffected by them. But eye-pressure spikes that are large, and/or last a long

time, and/or occur frequently, may contribute to the progression of pressure-related

eye diseases.” 

These diseases include glaucoma - which affects a large proportion of elderly

people and can lead to blindness - and rapidly increasing myopia, or short-

sightedness. Rarer pressure-related conditions include keratoconus, or conical


“Avoiding sleeping with the eyes in contact with a pillow or sleep mask may help to

slow the progression of pressure-sensitive eye diseases,” he says. 

“Treating itchy, watery, dry or irritated eyes might be the key to avoiding eye

rubbing-related pressure spikes. If you practice yoga exercises, you might be

advised to avoid head stands. 

“People who think they might be at risk in relation to these conditions should ask their

eye care practitioner to advise them regarding the significance of pressure spiking


Eye rubbing may cause the highest pressure spike but may be only an occasional

harmless event. However, for some people, especially those with itchy eyes, eye

rubbing can be a frequently repeated habit, with rubbing episodes lasting for

minutes that continue to occur over many years. 

Taking a deep breath results in a pressure spike of about 33%. If breathing out is

restricted, the increase in pressure is greater. For example, people playing a high

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wind-resistance instrument such as a trumpet, oboe, French horn or bassoon,

especially when they play loud and/or high-pitched notes, can more than double

their eye pressure. Professional musicians have been found to be at slightly higher risk

for loss of vision due to their increased hours of playing over many years. The risk

could be significant for someone with glaucoma or a tendency to develop


The combination of strenuous muscular effort and breathing that is strained can raise

pressure to high levels. One example is weight lifting, especially when lying on a

bench to do bench presses.  Another example is doing sit ups on a slant board,

when the starting head position is well below the feet; or doing push-ups, especially

when they are performed with feet raised. 


Media contact: Professor McMonnies - 02 9958 3046   

UNSW Faculty of Science media liaison: Bob Beale 0411 705 435

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