Keratoconus, allergy, itch, eye-rubbing and hand-dominance

Clin Exp Optom. 2003 Nov;86(6):376-84. doi: 10.1111/j.1444-0938.2003.tb03082.x.


Background: One hypothesis for the pathogenesis of keratoconus includes teenage allergy, ocular itch and associated eye-rubbing.

Methods: This study examined the prevalence of these factors for teenage and adult patients. The results for a sample of 53 subjects with bilateral keratoconus were compared with those for a control sample of non-keratoconus subjects, who also routinely wore RGP contact lenses. The strongest dominant hand and the eye with more advanced keratoconus were also determined, to examine for a relationship between them.

Results: The keratoconic sample reported significantly higher levels of allergy, itch and rubbing as teenagers and as adults. However, all distributions were bimodal, consistent with the hypothesis that allergy, itch and rubbing are relevant in the pathogenesis of keratoconus only when the highest levels of these factors are present. For example, a significant relationship between the stronger dominant hand and the more advanced eye was evident only in subjects who reported the most severe rubbing.

Conclusions: This finding adds weight to the circumstantial evidence that rubbing contributes to the pathogenesis of keratoconus. Low levels of teenage rubbing by some keratoconic subjects suggest a non-rubbing pathogenesis and that emphasis on rubbing management is not warranted in these cases. However, high levels of adult rubbing reported by many keratoconic subjects indicate that the standard advice to avoid vigorous and prolonged rubbing is often not effective, even when repeated. There appears to be an indication for the need to improve the management of eye-rubbing for some patients with keratoconus or at risk of developing this disease.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Female
  • Functional Laterality*
  • Humans
  • Hypersensitivity / complications*
  • Keratoconus / etiology*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pruritus / complications*
  • Pruritus / physiopathology*