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Histopathology of the Ocular Surface After Eye Rubbing

Greiner Jack V. M.D. Ph.D.; Leahy, Charles D. O.D., M.S.; Welter, David A. Ph.D.; Hearn, Stacey L. B.A.; Weidman, Thomas A. Ph.D.; Korb, Donald R. O.D.
Cornea: May 1997


This study demonstrates the effects of eye rubbing on ocular surface tissue.


Rabbits (3–4 kg; n = 24) were killed at 0, 4-h, 8-h, and 12-h intervals after a 5-min period of eye rubbing. Ocular surface tissues were studied by light and scanning electron microscopy. Contralateral eyes served as controls. Eye rubbing was accomplished by using digital pressure over the closed eyelid with a force sufficient to appreciate by palpation the orbital rim. Biomicroscopic examination revealed marked vascular injection of the conjunctiva. Ocular surface tissues studied included the lid margins, the upper and lower tarsal conjunctivae, the bulbar conjunctiva, and the cornea.


Changes in the ocular surface included dramatic alteration in the upper tarsal conjunctiva when compared with controls. The cornea and bulbar and lower tarsal conjunctiva were not altered when compared with control tissues, except for some increase in exfoliating cells in the cornea. The surface epithelial cells of the upper tarsal conjunctiva had a spheroidal structure and were markedly elevated, the microprojections were altered, and there was evidence of increased cellular exfoliation. These changes were most pronounced at the 0 and 4-h time points, less noticeable at 8 h, and no appreciable changes were observed when compared with control tissues at 12 h.


This study demonstrates that eye rubbing causes surface alterations in the stratified cuboidal to columnar epithelial surface of the upper tarsal conjunctiva while sparing the stratified squamous epithelial surface of the distal lid margins and cornea.

© Lippincott-Raven Publishers.