Why Do My Eyes Smell When I Rub Them?

The phenomenon of eyes emitting a smell when rubbed can be quite perplexing. However, this scent is not actually originating from the eyes themselves, but rather from certain bacteria and oils present on our fingertips. When we rub our eyes vigorously, these substances get transferred onto the eyeball and mix with tears, causing the distinctive smell.

Microorganisms on our fingers

Our fingers come into contact with various microorganisms throughout the day. While most of these are harmless, some bacteria, such as Staphylococcus aureus, can thrive on our skin. When we rub our eyes, these bacteria are transferred to the eye surface, leaving an odor behind.

The role of oils

Our fingertips are coated with natural oils produced by the sebaceous glands. These oils serve to moisturize and protect the skin. However, when we rub our eyes, these oils mix with the tears, creating an unwelcome smell.

Causes of eye rubbing

Rubbing our eyes can be reflexive or habitual. The most common causes include:

  • Allergies: When our eyes become itchy due to an allergic reaction, we may instinctively rub them to alleviate the itchiness.
  • Fatigue: Tiredness can cause eye discomfort, leading to rubbing as a reflex action.
  • Dry eyes: When our eyes lack sufficient lubrication, they may feel irritated, prompting us to rub them.

The importance of avoiding eye rubbing

While it may provide temporary relief, rubbing our eyes can actually have negative consequences. Some reasons to avoid this habit are:

  1. Spreading bacteria: By rubbing our eyes, we transfer bacteria from our hands to this sensitive area, increasing the risk of infection.
  2. Damaging the cornea: Vigorous rubbing can cause harm to the delicate cornea, leading to corneal abrasions or scratches.
  3. Exacerbating allergies: Rubbing eyes during an allergic reaction can worsen symptoms and make the eyes more swollen and irritated.

Tips to stop eye rubbing

To break the habit of rubbing our eyes, we can try implementing the following strategies:

  • Practice good hygiene by washing hands regularly, especially before touching the face.
  • Keep the eyes lubricated with artificial tears to reduce dryness and discomfort.
  • If experiencing allergies, use over-the-counter antihistamine eye drops to relieve itchiness without rubbing.
  • Address underlying issues such as fatigue or allergies with appropriate treatments.

Ask a professional

If you continue to experience a strong smell or unusual symptoms in your eyes when rubbing them, it is advisable to consult an eye care professional. They can provide a proper diagnosis and recommend any necessary treatments or interventions.


In conclusion, the smell that arises when rubbing our eyes is not a result of the eyes themselves emitting any odor. Instead, it is the combination of bacteria present on our fingers and the natural oils produced by our skin mixing with tears. Understanding the reasons behind this phenomenon and taking steps to avoid eye rubbing can help protect our eyes from potential harm and maintain good eye health.