Baby Keeps Rubbing Eyes - Causes & How to Prevent It

Baby Rubbing Eyes – Reasons and Prevention

Medically Reviewed By
Dr. Arti Sharma (Paediatrician)
View more Paediatrician Our Panel of Experts

Once you bring your little one home from the hospital, you will start to notice cute little things about them. What they do, the sound they make and the way they look around with their big beady eyes. Babies rubbing their eyes is possibly the cutest thing you will see. Their tiny fists rubbing those round curious eyes are sure to tug at your heartstrings. Usually, babies rub their eyes when they feel tired or sleepy, but in some cases, your baby might also be feeling pain due to dust or an eyelash in the eyes, an eye infection, or even an allergy. In this article, we will discuss reasons and prevention of a baby rubbing its eyes. 

Video: Baby Rubbing Eyes – Reasons and Prevention

Your infant rubbing his eyes can be a warning sign for all the above. You need to be alert, so that you can do everything to help prevent your little one from accidentally hurting his eyes by rubbing too hard. Let’s look at some of the reasons why babies rub their eyes.

Why Do Babies Rub Their Eyes?

Babies can rub their eyes for a lot of different reasons, just like they cry for many different reasons. Baby rubbing eyes while sleeping is a common occurrence. However, there is a solution to everything! Here are some reasons why babies rub their eyes –

1. They Are Feeling Sleepy

Sometimes, along with rubbing the eyes, your baby may also yawn. This means that he is sleepy and tired. When you are tired, your eyes are fatigued. That’s why babies rub their eyes, so that they can try and relieve some of the tension and soreness around the eye muscles and in the eyelids, just like during a massage. This indicates that its time for a good, long nap!

2. Their Eyes Are Dry

Your baby can also rub his eyes when they become too dry. A tear film covers the inside eye and evaporates if it gets exposed to air for a long time. This creates discomfort, due to dryness of the eyes, and your baby may instinctively rub his eyes to relieve that discomfort, especially since rubbing creates tears, which bring back moisture to the eyes.

3. They Are Curious

You may notice that when you close your eyes and rub them, you see lights and patterns on the insides of your eyelid. Your little one may have recently developed the motor skills to rub his eyes and is experimenting with this new skill. Your baby may be amazed by the patterns seen while rubbing the eyes and could be trying it over and over again to experience it.Curious Baby

4. There Is Something in Their Eyes

Your baby may be rubbing his eyes continuously if there is something in there causing irritation. It may be specks of dust, an eyelash, or dried mucus. It is important to note that even blinking or tears may be signs of this. If there is an irritant in your baby’s eyes, use a soft wet cloth to wipe the eye and face so that nothing else gets in. After that, use cold water to clean your baby’s eyes (never use warm water inside the eyes). Make sure someone is holding the baby’s head or there is adequate support when you do this.

If you see something stuck in the corner of your baby’s eye, try using a warm, wet cloth or cotton swab to brush it out. If the tears and blinking persist even after that, it might mean the foreign object is still stuck inside the eye. In that case, it is best to visit a doctor.

5. Painful or Itchy Eyes

Another reason for a baby rubbing his eyes might be due to allergies or an infection that may present itself through pain or itching. Symptoms that your baby has an eye infection may include swollen or reddish eyes, discharge, fever, or continued crying. In such cases, it is better to consult a doctor so that he can correctly diagnose and treat your baby’s eye infection or allergy.Baby at the doctor's clinic

At What Age Do Newborns Start Rubbing Their Eyes?

Babies usually start rubbing their eyes when they are just months old! They could be rubbing their eyes for a variety of reasons such as tiredness, itchiness, etc. 

How Can You Prevent Babies From Rubbing Their Eyes?

You need to take some measures to prevent your baby from rubbing his eyes often, as it might cause injury or scratches to your little one’s eyes. Here are some ways to prevent this from happening.

  • Try covering your baby’s hands with mittens if he has a vigorous eye-rubbing habit. This will protect his skin from getting scratched or irritated.
  • Put your baby to sleep, immediately, if you notice eye-rubbing accompanied by yawning. Establish a sleep routine for your baby and stick to it. Once your baby gets used to it, there will be no more tiredness, and hence, no more eye rubbing.
  • To prevent foreign objects from getting inside your baby’s eyes, try not to take him/ her to places where there is a lot of dust flying around. If you have to, then properly protect the baby’s eyes and nose before exposing him/her to dust.
  • Distract them with toys or other objects. This will help divert their attention.
  • Hand them a toy or some other object that will keep their hands busy.
  • Cover your child’s hands with cotton mittens to stop them from touching their eyes. 

Risks of Vigorous Eye Rubbing

While mild eye rubbing when sleepy, etc. Is unlikely to pose any threat, vigorous eye-rubbing may have certain risks. Your baby may have scratched their eye. Here are some of the risks of rubbing eyes frequently or with force.

1. Increases the Risk of an Infection

Babies are naturally curious and keep touching everything around them. Not to mention the people around who transfer the germs they carry, when cuddling the little ones. Rubbing the eyes increases the risk of these germs being transferred into your baby’s eye and causing an infection.

2. Worsens Eyesight in the Long Term

Constantly rubbing the eyes leads to thinning of the corneal tissue, worsening eyesight in the long run. While the effects may not be as immediate as infection, your baby is more likely to grow up with progressive myopia later on in life.

3. Can Cause an Injury

The baby may vigorously rub his eye if there is something stuck in there causing irritation. This increases the risk of a corneal abrasion, which can be painful and take longer to heal.

When To See A Doctor

You should visit your doctor if you notice that your baby is rubbing their eyes for reasons other than teething pain or tiredness. If you notice other symptoms, such as swelling or redness in the eyes, you should consult your paediatrician. 


1. Can Rubbing Eyes Cause Retinal Tears In Babies?

Eye-rubbing can cause redness and irritation in a baby’s eyes. However, it is unlikely that it will cause retinal tears. 

2. Can Rubbing Eyes Lead To Permanent Damage In Babies?

Rubbing your eyes is a very natural phenomenon and, in most cases, is not something to worry about. 

Do not worry or panic if you notice your baby developing an eye-rubbing habit. If you think something is bothering him and notice any redness or swelling, try washing the eyes and cleaning the area around them, using the methods explained above. If that does not help with redness, and the swelling persists, consult a doctor. If the eye- rubbing continues to a greater extent, even without redness or swelling, it is still better to visit the doctor once to be 100% sure that everything is alright. After all, no compromises should be taken when it is your baby in question!

Also Read: Eye Problems in Babies

Previous article «
Next article »