Crusty Eyes Causes & Treatments

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It is normal to wake up with crusty eyes in the morning. There could be a number of reasons behind your crusty eyes. But, 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 nothing but a buildup of mucus in your eyes. And these eye boogers are quite common in the morning.

When you are awake, a tear film called Rheum keeps your eyes moist and, ultimately, protects them. 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.

At night, while you are not blinking, it is possible for this mucus to build up. Eye discharge can 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 of a whitish or cream color.3

However, if the crust is yellowish or greenish, or if you experience other uncomfortable symptoms, it could be a sign that you have 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 just a few of the reasons your eyes may be building up gunk overnight.

Sleep

When you sleep, you are not blinking because your eyes are closed for hours throughout the night. So the mucus that your eyes produce is usually clear when you blink just 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, refers to an infection or the inflammation of the membrane (the conjunctiva) 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, also known as a hordeolum, is a small and red lump that grows in the base of your eyelash or just underneath your eyelid.2 A stye is generally painful. A bacterial infection is usually the culprit. But 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, typically due to an infected hair follicle.2
  2. Internal hordeolum: An internal hordeolum is a stye that is inside your eyelid, typically because of an infection in an oil-producing gland.2

Blocked Tear Duct

A blocked tear duct may cause your eyes to collect crust in the corners in the morning. This is because, when your tear ducts are either 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 happen for a bunch of reasons. 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.

Conjunctivitis

Conjunctivitis is just another word for pink eye.5 Conjunctivitis can absolutely cause eye crust. Most of the time, conjunctivitis can go away on its own within a week or two. But you may be very uncomfortable, and your eye doctor can give you eye drops to treat the infection. 

Bacterial conjunctivitis

Pink eye is very contagious, so be careful around others who have conjunctivitis, and do your best to sanitize surfaces you touch if you have it.

Is Sleep Crust Normal?

Yes, sleep crust is totally 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 other uncomfortable or painful symptoms, call your eye doctor. There may be something else at play besides your eyes’ normal drainage system.

Home Remedies for Crusty Eyes 

While you may feel inclined to rub your eyes, you really do not want to be poking your eyes with dirty hands. This can spread infection and lead to irritation if your eyes are not already infected or irritated.

The first thing you should do before touching your eyes is to 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 health concern that is causing your eye crust, such as a stye or pink eye, you will need to take other actions. Often, warm compresses can help speed up the recovery process. 

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, you should visit your eye doctor for help.

While you can treat styes and pink eye at home, 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. Even if there is nothing wrong with your eyes, the doctor can still recommend over-the-counter products that can help alleviate some discomfort.

What to Expect During Your Appointment 

Your eye doctor will take a look at your eyes, ask you some questions about your symptoms, and determine the best course of treatment for your eye crust. They may prescribe you eye drops or another type of medicine to help with your situation.  

Most of the time, eye crust is nothing to worry about. It is totally normal. But talking to a doctor can give you peace of mind and the right treatment you need if you do have an eye problem.

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, and you’ll do a better job of keeping infections and other issues at bay.

Resources
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(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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