Eye Discharge Causes, Types & Treatment

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What is Eye Discharge?

Eye discharge — also known as eye mucus, goop, eye gunk, or eye boogers — is a concern for many people. 

Eye mucus tends to accumulate in the corners of your eyes during sleep. Sometimes you can remove it by rubbing your finger in the corner of your eyes. However, sometimes your eyelids may feel glued shut by the gunk stuck to your eyelashes.

If the discharge in your eye is making life uncomfortable, it may be time to visit your doctor. 

There are several types of eye mucus discharge and conditions that may be linked to them. If you think you may have one of these eye conditions, consult with your eye doctor. These conditions may include conjunctivitis, blepharitis, or dacryocystitis.

The sooner you make an appointment, the quicker your doctor can check your eyes for a proper diagnosis and start any necessary treatment.

What Does Eye Discharge Look Like?

Eye pus or discharge varies considerably. It may appear clear and watery or thick, green, and sticky. Make sure you visit your eye doctor for a proper diagnosis and treatment.

What Causes Eye Discharge?

Everyone produces the goop that causes eye mucus. This is normal for healthy people. However, some adjustments in lifestyle or eye health can lead the eyes to create excess discharge.

Some of these changes can also make it more likely that the discharge sticks to the eyes.

Causes of excess eye discharge include:

Eye Products

Some eye products like cosmetics or contact lenses may aggravate the eyes and cause them to create more mucus. 

Dirt and Debris

When the eyes have collected debris around them, they can become irritated. For example, when someone sleeps without removing mascara or other makeup. The eyes create extra mucus that can get trapped within the eyes and on the eyelashes.

Changes in the Weather or Climate

Some people create more eye discharge at certain times of the year. For example, during allergy season or cold weather.

Eye Infection

Healthy eye discharge is clear or light yellow. It can sometimes be hard, sludgy, or thin after sleeping. However, it should not be noticeable during the day. 

If the mucus from your eyes is very thick, dark yellow, green, or occurs with redness or eye pain, it could suggest an infection. If you have these symptoms, you should see an eye doctor as soon as possible.

Types of Eye Discharge & What They Mean

Various types of eye discharge may suggest different conditions. Here are some forms of discharge and what they mean:

Morning Mucus (Sleep Crust)

Sleep crust is a combination of mucus, exfoliated skin cells, tears, and oils created or shed by the eye during sleep. It is a natural and healthy part of eye function.4 During the day, all the morning mucus washes away when you blink tears.

This stops the morning mucus from remaining in your eyes. However, when you are asleep, gravity and the fact that you are not blinking make the sleep crust collect in the corner of your eye.

Crusty Eyelashes and Thick Eye Mucus

Blepharitis is a common eye condition that makes your eyelids swollen, red, irritated, and itchy. It can lead to crusty dandruff-like flakes on your eyelashes. 

This eye condition can be uncomfortable. However, it is not contagious and does not cause any lasting damage to your eyes.

The best treatment for blepharitis is regularly cleaning your eyelids and ensuring they are free of crusts. You can also try applying warm compresses followed by eyelid scrubs. 

Eyelid scrubs can be performed in various ways. The eyes are closed and scrubbed with a clean washcloth using a gentle back and forth motion. Try using baby shampoo because it does not sting your eyes.

The condition does not usually go away completely, but there are ways to manage your symptoms. Speak with your doctor to discuss what is causing your blepharitis and the most effective ways to manage it.

Watery Mucus

An eye infection may cause watery tears mixed with a small amount of eye discharge. Viral conjunctivitis can result in various symptoms, including eyelid swelling, redness, blurry vision, and a foreign body sensation. Conjunctivitis is also called pink eye.

Viral conjunctivitis is often linked to upper respiratory viral illnesses. Inflammation and irritation can cause your eyes to water excessively. 

Eye Bump & Mucus 

Sometimes eye mucus develops with a lump or reddish bump at the eyelash base or under the eyelid. If mucus only occurs in this area, or you notice pus in the bump, it may be a stye.

Styes are painful, small, red bumps found at the edge of the eyelids. These usually develop due to a bacterial infection.

In some cases, bacterial eye infections like styes can cause the whole eyelid to grow and swell. If you have any symptoms of a stye, visit your doctor, where they can provide medical advice. Never attempt to squeeze or pop a stye.

Stringy Mucus

Stringy, white eye mucus may suggest allergic conjunctivitis.6 An allergic reaction in the eye can make you feel very uncomfortable. The allergic response may create deposits and material stuck together, gathering inside your eye or under the lower eyelid.

If eye allergies become severe, eye drops or oral medications may be necessary. Your eye doctor may suggest using chilled, over-the-counter artificial tears several times a day. This rehydrates and lubricates your eyes and dilutes the number of antigens in your tears.

White or Yellow Mucus Balls

White or yellow mucus balls and watery tears are common symptoms of dacryocystitis. This is the nasolacrimal sac or tear drainage system infection. If you have this condition, you may experience facial pain, redness, and swelling around the nasal area of the eyelid.

You may also notice a discharge leaving the puncta. This is a small drainage hole in the eyelid. This condition can become severe if you do not meet your eye doctor immediately for treatment with antibiotics.

When is Eye Discharge a Sign of Something Serious?

You should speak with your doctor if you experience excessive eye discharge or if it does not improve after a week. In severe cases, your discharge may develop with other symptoms like eye pain and impaired vision.

If you start to experience adverse symptoms with your discharge or notice any abnormal eye discharge, seek immediate medical attention. These may be signs of a more severe underlying condition.

How to Get Rid of Eye Discharge

Good hygiene can help reduce eye mucus. This includes removing makeup at night and keeping your eyes clean by rubbing the closed eyes with a clean, warm washcloth. 

Eye drops from various brands are found online. However, speaking with an eye doctor before purchasing is suggested to ensure the product is safe for use. 

People with contact lenses who want to reduce their eye mucus should remove their lenses at night. They should also replace their contacts as recommended by their eye doctor and use the proper solutions to clean their lenses.

Some people notice more eye boogers when they wake up in the morning. Applying a warm compress over the eyes for three to five minutes can help loosen the mucus. If there is enough discharge to make the eyelids stick shut in the morning, you should speak with your eye doctor to rule out a bacterial eye infection.

How to Get Rid of Eye Discharge in Babies 

Babies create eye mucus and may develop eye infections. A baby with an eye discharge similar to that of an adult is typically healthy. However, some newborns have tear ducts that are not fully developed. This may lead the tear ducts to become blocked. Babies with a blocked tear duct may develop green or yellow mucus throughout the day and not just when they wake up.

Babies with this kind of discharge may be tended with a warm compress. If the eye becomes red, tender, or swollen, the baby may have an eye infection and should see a doctor.

Children with blocked tear ducts that do not improve by the age of one may require surgery to open the tear duct.

Resources
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Azari, Amir A, and Neal P Barney. “Conjunctivitis: a systematic review of diagnosis and treatment.” JAMA vol. 310,16 (2013), https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24150468/

Lindsley, Kristina et al. “Interventions for chronic blepharitis.” The Cochrane database of systematic reviews vol. 2012,5 CD005556. 16 May. 2012, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22592706/ 

Senaratne, Tissa, and Clare Gilbert. “Conjunctivitis.” Community eye health vol. 18,53 (2005): 73-5, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1705660/

Is that morning ‘eye gunk’ normal?, Health University of Utah, January 2018, https://healthcare.utah.edu/healthfeed/postings/2018/01/eye-gunk.php

Blepharitis, National Eye Institute (NEI), August 2020, https://www.nei.nih.gov/learn-about-eye-health/eye-conditions-and-diseases/blepharitis

Baab S, Le PH, Kinzer EE. Allergic Conjunctivitis. [Updated 2021 Mar 23]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2021 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK448118/

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