Eye Boogers: What Are They and How to Get Rid of Them

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What are Eye Boogers?

Waking up with eye boogers is normal. Eye boogers are the crust you may find in the corners of your eyes when you wake up in the morning. There could be a bunch of reasons that you have eye boogers. Most of the time, this discharge in the corners of your eyes is just residue from your eyes’ natural protective process.6

Eye gunk, more commonly known as eye boogers, are nothing but a buildup of mucus in your eyes. And these eye boogers are quite common eye conditions in the morning.

When you are awake, your eyes produce a tear film that is known as Rheum. Rheum keeps your eyes feeling moist. This, ultimately, protects them. Rheum is nothing but mucus from the conjunctiva and oil from your meibomian glands.6 Typically, when you blink, your eyes flush away the Rheum.

While you are not blinking during sleep, however, Rheum can build up. This eye discharge can then collect in clumps in the corner of your eyes, as well as along your eyelash line.6 Eye boogers can be hard and crusty. They can also be sticky and wet. Generally, this gunk is a whitish or cream color.3

If the crust in your eyes in the morning is a yellow pus or of a greenish color, or if you experience any other uncomfortable eye symptoms, it could be a red flag that you have an eye infection or another eye health issue.

Consult your eye doctor if you are worried that your eye crust could be a sign of something more serious, like a bacterial infection or eye injury.

What are Eye Boogers Actually Called?

Eye boogers are known as eye crust, eye gunk, eye discharge, and Rheum. Generally, they collect in the corner of your inner eyelid by your tear glands or along your eyelashes. 

What Causes Eye Boogers?

Eye boogers happen when the mucus and oils that keep your eyes moist build up while your eyes are closed. Because you normally blink this away while you are awake, you may not notice it. While you are sleeping, your eyes may produce more and more discharge that has nowhere to go. 

You may also get eye boogers from things like wearing contacts to bed, excessive tearing due to allergy season, irritated eyes, or bacterial infections. Typically, eye boogers are not a major cause for concern.

Different Types of Eye Mucus & What They Mean 

There are different causes of eye mucus. Some are normal, while some may be abnormal eye discharge.

Sleep

Eye boogers in the inner corner of your eyes commonly form while sleeping. You do not blink at night because your eyes are closed for hours, so the oils that keep your eyes protected can build up over time. This excess mucus can cause eye boogers, and is usually not a cause for concern.

Pink Eye

Pink eye may be a root cause behind your crusty eyes in the mornings. Pink eye is also known as conjunctivitis.5 It refers to an infection or inflammation of your conjunctiva, which is the membrane that lines your eyelid and covers the white part of your eye.4

 If the blood vessels in the conjunctiva become inflamed, they make your eyes appear red or pink. This is where pink eye gets its name.

Dry Eye

Dry eye can also be a reason for waking up with eye crust. If your eyes are dry, you may start noticing more crust than usual. 

You can also get dry eyes from allergies, which makes them create extra discharge to flush away the allergens.

Styes

A stye, which is also known as a hordeolum, is a small and red bump that grows on your eye. It usually grows along the base of your eyelash or just beneath your eyelid.2 Styes can be quite painful.

You may get a stye for a number of reasons. A bacterial infection is usually why. But you can also develop styes from conditions like blepharitis, which causes your eyelids to become red and swollen at the base.2

There are two different types of styes you should know about:

  1. External hordeolum: This is a stye that starts at the base of your eyelash. It is generally brought on by an infected hair follicle.2
  2. Internal hordeolum: This is a stye that forms inside your eyelid. It typically occurs because of an infection in an oil gland in the area.2

Blocked Tear Duct

A blocked tear duct may make your eyes start to get crusty in the mornings. When your tear ducts become partially or completely obstructed, your tears cannot drain.1 Therefore, you get very watery eyes. And, with watery eyes, you get discharge that can collect in the corner.

A blocked tear duct can occur for a lot of reasons. Blocked tear ducts are pretty common in newborn babies.1 As for adults, blocked tear ducts happen from infections, injuries, tumors, certain medications you may be taking, and more.1

Can Eye Boogers Indicate Something More Serious?

Eye boogers are pretty normal. Most of the time, they are not considered a sign of a potentially serious eye condition. Usually, sleep crust is just residue that builds up in the corner of your eye.

Some eye crust could indicate something more serious, like an eye problem, such as pink eye or a stye. If you are experiencing a lot of eye crust, more eye crust than usual, or eye crust that is accompanied by other uncomfortable or painful symptoms, consult your doctor. There may be something else causing it.

If you do indeed have another eye condition, you will want to treat it promptly so it does not start to obstruct your vision.

How to Get Rid of Eye Boogers

You can get rid of eye boogers on your own most of the time. If they are persistent, you may need to visit your doctor.

At-Home Remedies

If you are at home, always make sure to wash your hands before you start touching your eyes. Touching your eyes with dirty hands can lead to irritation and an infection. Make sure you wash your hands with soap and water.

After washing your hands, you can soak a washcloth in warm water to gently wipe away the crust. Gently massage the eye boogers away with the warm washcloth for a few minutes.6 Artificial tears can also help.

If you have an extreme case of eye crust, such as pink eye or a stye, you will need to take other actions like applying warm compresses. Too much mucus can cause pain and discomfort if you do not get it treated promptly.

When to See a Doctor 

Talk to your doctor if your eye crust is getting worse, if it is turning into a yellow mucus or green mucus, or if it is accompanied by other unpleasant symptoms. 

Some eye conditions are uncomfortable, like an infected eyelash follicle. Others are contagious, like pink eye. You do not want to endure discomfort or spread your eye infections to anyone else. 

You should also talk to your doctor if you have a chronic condition like seasonal eye allergies or wear contact lenses that irritate your eyes. They may be able to prescribe you medicine or eye drops to help dry and irritated eyes or whatever allergic reaction you experience.

Resources
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“Blocked Tear Duct.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 9 Mar. 2021, www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/blocked-tear-duct/symptoms-causes/syc-20351369

Boyd, Kierstan. “What Are Chalazia and Styes?” American Academy of Ophthalmology, 16 Dec. 2020, www.aao.org/eye-health/diseases/what-are-chalazia-styes

“Is That Morning ‘Eye Gunk’ Normal?” University of Utah Health, healthcare.utah.edu/healthfeed/postings/2018/01/eye-gunk.php

“Pink Eye (Conjunctivitis).” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 16 June 2020, www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/pink-eye/symptoms-causes/syc-20376355#

“Quick Home Remedies for Pink Eye.” American Academy of Ophthalmology, 9 Dec. 2020, www.aao.org/eye-health/diseases/pink-eye-quick-home-remedies.

“What Is Sleep Crust?” American Academy of Ophthalmology, 29 Mar. 2021, www.aao.org/eye-health/diseases/what-is-sleep-crust.

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