Your mom probably told you that sitting too close to the TV would wreck your eyes. Turns out, she’s wrong—there’s no evidence to show that does lasting damage, the American Academy of Ophthalmology says.
But there are other plenty of things you’re doing to that can set your eyeballs up for painful infections, freaky injuries, and more. And you’re probably guilty of at least a few of them.
Here, 8 everyday eye habits that are way riskier than you think—and what you should do to steer clear.
EYE-WRECKER: USING THE SAME OLD CONTACT LENS CASE
Over time, bacteria from your contact lenses build up in your case—even if you’re changing your solution regularly.
Those germs can latch onto the surface of your contacts and multiply. Then, when you put them into your eyes, they can cause a corneal ulcer, an open sore caused by an infection that can cause severe pain, itching, sensitivity to light, and blurry vision.
That’s why you should throw out your case and buy a new one every 3 to 4 months, says Ray Chan, M.D., an ophthalmologist at Texas Health Arlington Memorial Hospital. Doing it at the same time you replace your toothbrush is an easy way to remember.
It’s also a good idea to sterilize your case in boiling water for 5 minutes once a week, Dr. Chan says. That’ll kill off any germs that might be accumulating. Remember to change your solution daily, too. Re-using solution (or topping off old solution) causes bacteria to build up, which can up the risk for infection.
EYE-WRECKER: RUBBING YOUR EYES
Even though it feels good, vigorously rubbing your eyes can rupture blood vessels, making your eyes look bloodshot. Not so attractive, right?
The ruptured blood vessels—while unsightly—aren’t actually harmful, but rubbing your eyes could set you up for something a little more serious: It can also transfer bacteria and viruses from your hands to your eyelashes and eyelids, upping the risk for infections like pink eye, Dr. Chan says.
Plus, rubbing causes inflammation around your eyes, which can make them feel irritated and make you want to rub them more.
Instead of rubbing your eyes directly, try rubbing around your eye instead. “Keep your hand and fingers on the orbital rim, which is the bony rim around your eye,” says Dr. Chan. This will still give you that good feeling, but without the risk.
EYE WRECKER: TOUCHING YOUR EYES BEFORE WASHING YOUR HANDS
The average person touches their face almost 16 times an hour, found one Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene study. That gives your grubby hands and fingers have a lot of chances to come in contact with your eyes—and transfer nasty bacteria or viruses that could cause an infection, says Stuart Sondheimer, M.D., an ophthalmologist in Park Ridge, Illinois.
To keep those germs from reaching your eyes, try to avoid randomly touching or scratching them. And when you do have to touch them (like when changing your contacts or if something is in your eye), always wash your hands first with warm, soapy water.
EYE WRECKER: PICKING AT YOUR EYELASHES
Eyelashes exist to help block dirt, dust, and debris from entering your eyes—and pulling them out ups the odds that foreign particles can make their way in.
That can lead to eye pain and irritation. Foreign particles can also trigger an immune system reaction, causing your eye to get red, teary, or itchy, Dr. Chan says.
Lash-pulling is sometimes triggered by stress or anxiety—so if you find yourself doing it often, talk with a psychologist. He can help you figure out other ways to cope.
EYE-WRECKER: USING WATER (OR SPIT) TO RINSE YOUR CONTACT LENSES
Saliva is loaded with germy bacteria, and tap water can contain harmful amoebas—bacteria-like organisms that can cause Acanthamoeba keratitis, an infection that can leave you permanently blind.
So using either liquid to change your contacts puts you at risk for a serious infection that could lead to permanent vision loss, Dr. Chan says. That’s why you should always use contact lens solution to change or rinse your contacts.
Related: The #1 Worst Thing You Can Do When You Take Out Your Contacts
Distilled water or saline drops are safe alternatives if you don’t have any solution around. If you have no other options, use cooled boiled tap water, Dr. Chan recommends. Boiling sterilizes the water, killing infection-causing bacteria.
EYE-WRECKER: SWIMMING WITHOUT GOGGLES
Goggles might look a little dorky. But they form a waterproof seal around your eyes to block out potentially harmful compounds in the water.
Like tap water, both fresh and saltwater can contain harmful microorganisms and bacteria, along with debris that could irritate your eyes, says Dr. Sondheimer. And pool water can leave your eyes bloodshot and uncomfortable. When the chlorine used to clean public pools mixes with sweat, urine, and fecal matter, it forms chloramines—chemicals that can cause eye redness and irritation, according to the CDC.
Your goggles don’t have to be fancy or expensive. Just make sure they fit snugly so they form a tight seal around your eyes.
EYE-WRECKER: USING VISINE ALL THE TIME
Weirdly, eye-whitening drops can actually make your eyes redder. The drops work by constricting the blood vessels in your eyes to reduce blood flow, helping them appear less bloodshot. But using them on a regular basis causes your eyes to adapt to the drops.
So when you stop, you end up getting a rebound effect where your blood vessels dilate and your eyes look red, says Andrew Holzman, M.D., ophthalmologist and regional medical director of TLC Laser Eye Centers in Maryland.
It’s fine to use the drops once in a while (like after a night of drinking). But if you’re using them every day for more than a week or two, see your eye doctor to figure out what’s actually causing the redness, says Dr. Holzman. Usually, it’s dryness, which can be treated with lifestyle changes, artificial tears, or medication.
EYE-WRECKER: SKIPPING PROTECTION
More than 40 percent of eye injuries are caused by things like home repairs, yard work, and cleaning—and guys are at greater risk for getting hurt than women, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology.
That’s because it’s easy for debris or sharp objects like metal or wood to strike your eye and cause a serious injury, Dr. Sondheimer says.
So forget any fears about looking dorky and strap on a pair of well-fitting goggles before you crank up the lawnmower or fix that leaky faucet. (Glasses can help block some debris, but they’re not as effective as goggles, Dr. Sondheimer says.)