Crusty Eyes Causes & Treatments

6 sources cited
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It is normal to wake up with crusty eyes in the morning. There could be a few reasons behind your crusty eyes.

Most of the time, the gunk in the corners of your eyes in the morning is just residue from your eye’s protective process.6

How Does Eye Gunk Form?

Eye gunk, more commonly known as eye boogers, are a buildup of mucus in your eyes. These eye boogers are quite common in the morning.

When you are awake, a tear film called Rheum keeps your eyes moist and protected. Rheum is a combination of mucus produced by the conjunctiva and oil produced by meibomian glands.6 Every time you blink, your eyes flush it away.

Because you are not blinking at night, this mucus can build up. Eye discharge may collect in the corner of your eyes and along your eyelash line.6

It can be hard and crusty, or it can also be sticky and wet. Most of the time, this gunk is a whitish or cream color.3

If your eye crust is yellow or greenish, or if you feel pain or discomfort, it could be a sign of an eye infection.3

What Causes Crusty Eyes in the Morning?

There could be a whole host of reasons behind your crusty eyes in the morning.

Here are the most common reasons your eyes may be building up gunk overnight:

Sleep

The mucus that your eyes produce is usually cleared away when you blink. When you sleep, you are not blinking throughout the night. This natural mucus builds up instead.

Therefore, there may not be any cause for concern. Your eye crust could just be a normal bodily function.

Pink Eye

Pink eye can also be a cause of crusty eyes in the morning.

Pink eye, also known as conjunctivitis, is an infection or the inflammation of the conjunctiva. The conjunctiva is the membrane that lines your eyelid and covers the whites of your eye.4

If blood vessels in the conjunctiva become inflamed, they will cause your eyes to look red or pink. Hence, the name: pink eye.

Pink eye can cause your eyes to produce more mucus, especially because your eyes are trying to clear an infection. Therefore, pink eye can be a cause of morning eye crust.

Dry Eye

Dry eye can also cause eye crust in the morning. If your eyes are dry, you may notice that you have more crust than usual in the mornings. 

Styes

A stye is a small red lump that grows in the base of your eyelash or just underneath your eyelid.2

Styes are usually caused by bacterial infection and can be painful.

You can also develop a stye from blepharitis, which is a condition that makes your eyelids red and swollen at the base.2

eye stye

There are two different types of styes:

  1. External hordeolum: An external hordeolum is a stye that begins at the base of your eyelash. Usually caused by an infected hair follicle.2
  2. Internal hordeolum: An internal hordeolum is a stye that is inside your eyelid. Usually caused by an infection in an oil-producing gland.2

Blocked Tear Duct

A blocked tear duct can also cause your eyes to collect crust in the corners in the morning. If your tear ducts are partially or completely obstructed, your tears cannot drain properly.1

The result? Watery eyes.

When you have watery eyes, that discharge can pool in the corner of them overnight. So you may wake up with eye crust.

A blocked tear duct can have many causes.

It’s common in newborns, and it usually gets better during the first year on its own.1

For adults, blocked tear ducts may happen from injuries, infections, tumors, medications, and more.1

But, treatment is available to correct a blocked tear duct.

Is Sleep Crust Normal?

Yes, sleep crust is normal. Most of the time, sleep crust is just residue.

The oily secretions that your eyes blink away during the day can build up in the corners of your eyes at night.

There is usually nothing to worry about when it comes to eye crust. 

Some eye crust may be a result of an eye problem, such as a stye or pink eye.

If you are experiencing more eye crust than usual, or are developing uncomfortable symptoms, call your eye doctor.

There may be something else at play besides your eyes’ normal drainage system.

Abnormally crusty eyes are usually the result of a fixable condition. They are rarely caused by an eye disease.

Home Remedies for Crusty Eyes 

You may feel inclined to rub your eyes. But, you do not want to touch your eyes with dirty hands. This can spread infection and lead to irritation.

The first thing you should do before touching your eyes is wash your hands with soap and water.

Then you can soak a washcloth in warm water and gently brush the crust away from your eyes.

If you have a stye or pink eye, you should see an eye doctor.

You can also try a warm compress, which may speed up the healing process.

Here are instructions for making a warm compress for crusty eyes, styes, or pink eye:

  1. Wash your hands with soap and water
  2. Fill a clean bowl with warm to hot water (it should be comfortable on your fingers)
  3. Soak a clean washcloth in the warm water (don't put any soap, cleanser, or anything else in the water)
  4. Ring out the washcloth and fold it to the size of your eyes
  5. Close your eyes and place the cloth over them until it is no longer warm (about 5 minutes)
  6. Repeat steps 3 to 5 one or two more times

Can Eye Discharge be Dangerous?

No, most of the time eye discharge is not dangerous.

Your eyes produce mucus to protect themselves. However, eye crust can be uncomfortable and feel scratchy. 

If you have a stye or pink eye, you will need to treat it so it does not lead to vision damage.

When to See a Doctor

You should see a doctor if you are experiencing symptoms other than crust in your eyes. If you believe you may have an issue like a stye or pink eye, visit your eye doctor for help.

Your doctor may be able to give you medicine for the inflammation or eye drops for the discomfort. 

See a doctor if your symptoms worsen over time or if you develop any new symptoms.

While it is tempting to rub your eyes with your hands when you wake up, do your best to resist the urge. The last thing you want to do is spread germs from your hands to your eyes.

Keep your eyes clean by washing them with a warmly soaked washcloth.

6 Cited Research Articles
  1. Blocked Tear Duct.Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 9 Mar. 2021
  2. Boyd, Kierstan. “What Are Chalazia and Styes?American Academy of Ophthalmology, 16 Dec. 2020
  3. “Is That Morning ‘Eye Gunk’ Normal?University of Utah Health
  4. Pink Eye (Conjunctivitis).Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 16 June 2020
  5. Quick Home Remedies for Pink Eye.American Academy of Ophthalmology, 9 Dec. 2020.
  6. What Is Sleep Crust?” American Academy of Ophthalmology, 29 Mar. 2021.
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