Eye rubbing type and prevalence including contact lens ‘removal-relief’ rubbing

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Eye rubbing is commonly associated with keratoconus and may contribute to disease onset and progression. Verbal counselling to avoid rubbing may not be successful and adverse consequences of rubbing, which occurs on contact lens removal may be more serious. This study examines the prevalence of ‘removal-relief’ rubbing and its potential consequences.


Rubbing histories were recorded for contact lens wearing normal and keratoconic patients as well as for normal non-contact lens wearers. Analogue scaled responses were used to identify and compare abnormal rubbing habits.


Contact lens wearing patients (both with and without keratoconus) reported significantly more rubbing before contact lens insertion (p < 0.05) compared to non-contact lens wearers. Eye rubbing after contact lens removal (‘removal-relief’ rubbing) was found to be significantly more prevalent among contact lens-wearing keratoconic patients compared to contact lens-wearing non-keratoconic patients (p < 0.001 in both cases).


Rubbing-related trauma occurring before contact lens insertion may predispose the cornea to wound healing activities and greater levels of adverse response to contact lens wear. Such adverse responses could predispose the cornea to greater trauma, which occurs in response to rubbing on removal of contact lenses. Strong counselling to avoid eye rubbing is often not an adequate form of management for a significant number of patients with keratoconus. Evidence of relapses indicates the need for better methods of counselling and for them to be repeated regularly. Apart from keratoconus, any other keratectasia, corneal disease or wound healing (including post-surgical) may increase susceptibility to corneal rubbing trauma. Such cases also appear to warrant counselling on avoidance of rubbing.

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