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Crusty Eyes (in the Morning): Causes & Treatment

Crusty eyes refer to the accumulation of discharge that dries on the lids and/or corners of the eyes. A combination of liquids can accumulate during the night, making crusty eyes in the morning common and normal. 

When you are not blinking due to sleep, oil, mucus, aqueous humor (the fluid that lubricates the eye), skin cells, and dirt accumulate in these areas and dry, leaving a crust-like residue.

How Do Crusty Eyes Form?

Morning crusty eyes form during sleep when the eyes are closed.

  • Normally, blinking is a process that filters out potentially toxic substances from the eye. 
  • The regular engagement in blinking protects the eye and also prevents liquid substances from drying, accumulating, and forming crust. 
  • When sleeping, there is no opportunity to blink, and the combination of various substances like mucus, skin cells, dirt, and fluid within the eyes begin to compile within the corners of the eyes and dry to create the crust-like substance that many people commonly experience in the morning.
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Causes of Crusty Eyes

While the manner in which crust forms is fairly intuitive, there may be some underlying health issues that can cause excessive discharge from the eyes or conditions in the skin that result in the accumulation of crust on the eyes. 

There are several specific eye conditions that can result in abnormal eye discharge, leading to crusty eyes in the morning. The following is a list of conditions that may result in abnormal eye discharge:

  • Blepharitis: This condition results in inflammation of the eyelid. 
  • Conjunctivitis: Commonly referred to as pink eye, this is a condition in which the transparent membrane lining the eyelid becomes infected or swollen. 
  • Stye: This is a painful, reddish bump on the eyelid. 
  • Viral or bacterial infection: This can be caused by exposure to a harmful virus or bacteria. 
  • Corneal ulcers: This is an open sore within the cornea, or the clear layer covering the iris. 
  • Eye injuries: These can lead to abnormal eye discharge. 
  • Allergies: An allergic reaction can cause wet or crusted discharge within the eyes, leading to crusty eyes in the morning. 
  • Dry eyes: Dehydration can lead to watery eyes and the accumulation of discharge, resulting in crusty eyes in the morning. This is one reason why many people experience crusty eyes the morning after a night of drinking.

Is Eye Crust in the Morning Normal?

Crusty eyes in the morning are normal, and almost everyone has experienced this condition at some point in their lives. Many people experience crusty eyes every morning. 

However, crust in the morning may also be indicative of an underlying health condition. It is best to see a doctor if crust in the eyes occurs suddenly and frequently without a prior history of this condition or if an excessive amount of crust forms.

Treatment for Crusty Eyes

Typically, little needs to be done to treat crusty eyes other than to clean the corners of the eyes with a damp towel or cotton swab.

For individuals who also experience swelling of the eyes, such as in cases of blepharitis, you can try the following:

  1. Compress the eye lightly with a warm towel for two to three minutes to first loosen the crusty residue.
  2. Gently massage the eyes with a clean finger or washcloth to loosen the crust. 

If a doctor has identified a specific underlying condition, subsequent treatment will be based on the causes of that condition. For example, if a bacterial infection is responsible, antibiotics may be necessary. An allergic reaction may be treated with an antihistamine. 

Antiviral drugs may be prescribed if a viral infection is responsible for abnormal discharge of the eyes. In some rare cases, a doctor may recommend surgery if medication is not eliciting an intended effect.

Prevention of Crusty Eyes in the Morning

The most important step you can take to prevent crusty eyes is to practice eye safety and hygienic eye care. This involves the following:

  1. Wash the eyes gently with water.
  2. Avoid heavy exposure to sunlight
  3. Limit screen time. 
  4. Avoid touching your eyes throughout the day.
  5. Wash your hands frequently and always before touching your eyes.
  6. Use an eye mask for sleeping if needed. 
  7. Quit smoking and heavy alcohol consumption to reduce eye discharge. 
  8. Drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration and dry eyes.

Eye Crust & Babies

Babies are not able to practice eye hygiene and safety, and their tear ducts can also become blocked. Thus, it is critical that parents or guardians make sure to regularly clean babies’ eyes and faces. Babies are prone to touching their faces out of curiosity and can cause an infection without the vigilance of parents and guardians. 

If your baby wakes up with crusty eyes, ask their pediatrician how to address the issue. In most cases, the issue will pass on its own, but in some cases, they may recommend the use of eye drops.

It is also critical to ensure that the nearby surroundings with which the baby comes into contact are clean to prevent the spread of bacteria that could cause an infection.

When to See a Doctor

Crusty eyes in the morning are usually not something to worry about. Most people have at least some crust in their eyes every morning. 

However, in some cases, crusty eyes may be indicative of an underlying health issue. Again, it’s best to see a doctor if there are any changes. 

You should also see your doctor if crusty eyes are accompanied by redness, swelling, itching, and/or pain in the eyes and surrounding ocular cavity. Also, see a doctor if the onset of crusty eyes aligns with the onset of other symptoms, such as gastrointestinal discomfort, as this may be an indication of exposure to an allergen. 

See a doctor promptly if any of the following occur:

  • Vision impairment
  • White, yellow, or green discharge 
  • Difficulty opening your eyes
  • High level of light sensitivity

Crusty Eyes FAQs

What are crusty eyes symptoms of?

Crusty eyes in the morning may be symptoms of conditions like an infection, a blocked tear duct, stye, dry eye, conjunctivitis, and merely sleep. Some degree of crust is normal. Excessive crust or sudden changes might be signs of a problem.

How do I get rid of crusty eyes?

If the crust won’t come off easily, take a warm compress and apply it to the eye to loosen the crust. Then, gently massage the eye with a clean finger or cloth.

What causes crusty eyes in the morning?

Crust in the morning is caused by the accumulation of eye discharge and other liquids and substances that accrue and dry in the corners of the eyes during sleep. This occurs due to lack of blinking.

References

  1. Development and Evaluation of a Measure of Patient-Reported Symptoms of Blepharitis. (January 2018). Health and Quality of Life Outcomes. 

  2. Efficacy of Treatments for Demodex Blepharitis: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. (October 2019). The Ocular Surface.

  3. The Eyes Have It. (March 2018). Community Practitioner.

  4. Is that Morning “Eye Gunk” Normal? (January 2018). University of Utah Health.

  5. Tea Tree Oil for Demodex Blepharitis. (June 2020). Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 

Last Updated October 12, 2022

Note: This page should not serve as a substitute for professional medical advice from a doctor or specialist. Please review our about page for more information.

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