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Eye Discharge & What It Tells You About Your Health

Eye discharge is a common occurrence for most people. While it is not dangerous, it could signify that something is not quite right with your eye health. 

We’ve outlined some of the most common causes of eye boogers and how they relate to your health below.

What Are Eye Boogers or Eye Discharge?

Eye boogers, also known as eye discharge, are a normal part of the tear film that coats your eyes, and they help keep your eyes lubricated and reduce glare.

This discharge is made up of oil and protein produced by glands in your eyelids. Your body constantly supplies this natural lubricant for your eyes, but it doesn’t always leave the eye clean. 

As such, you may notice specks on your eyelashes after waking up. If you’re tired, you might even get an eye booger stuck on one of your lashes. 

If you find yourself with an excess of eye boogers, it may be because you’re getting older or experiencing some other medical condition that affects how much oil your body produces. 

If this is happening to you, talk to your doctor about what might be causing the problem so they can help you find solutions.

What Causes Eye Boogers?

Eye boogers result from your eyes producing excess mucus and water while sleeping. In most cases, these eye crusties are harmless, but they can be embarrassing and uncomfortable if they get in the way of your vision.

The most common causes of eye boogers are allergies and bacterial and viral infections. However, eye discharge can be caused by several other factors as well. These are some of them:

1. Dry Eye

Dry eye is the most common cause of eye boogers. Dry eye occurs when the tear glands don’t produce enough moisture to keep your eyes lubricated and comfortable. 

Several factors can contribute to dry eye, including age, contact lens use, and use of medications that cause the eyes to produce fewer tears. 

When the tear glands don’t secrete enough tears to keep your eyes moist, you may notice thicker mucus collecting in the corners of your eyes.

2. Blocked Tear Duct

Tears drain through a series of small ducts, and they flush away bacteria and cleanse the eyes. With a blocked tear duct, tears don’t drain properly, and bacteria tend to build up. 

Tear ducts occasionally become blocked in newborns and infants. About 10 percent of all newborns have blocked tear ducts. This disorder causes the tears to back up into the eye, leading to a buildup of mucus that is eventually released as boogers. In most cases, the condition usually clears up during the first year of life.

3. Conjunctivitis (Pink Eye)

Conjunctivitis is a condition where the conjunctiva becomes inflamed. People often refer to conjunctivitis as pink eye because it can cause the white portion of your eye to take on a pink or red hue.

The most common cause of conjunctivitis is bacteria. However, viruses and allergies can also lead to this condition. In fact, over 40 percent of Americans suffer from allergic conjunctivitis. 

If your eyes are red throughout the day or you have unusual discharge, it might signify you’ve contracted pink eye. The next step should be to visit a health care provider.

4. Blepharitis

Blepharitis is a common eye disease that causes inflammation of the eyelids. This eye condition can cause stinging, burning, itching, and redness in the eye area. Studies indicate that blepharitis might result from a bacterial or fungal infection, an allergy, or poor hygiene. 

Health care practitioners recommend that people suffering from blepharitis avoid rubbing their eyes as much as possible. Rubbing will only worsen the problem.

Types of Eye Discharge in Babies

It’s common to see a little eye discharge in babies. Most eye discharges in babies are normal and caused by an overactive tear gland. However, sometimes unusual discharges can be caused by infection, allergies, or other health conditions. 

According to Seattle Children’s Hospital, these are the most common types of eye discharge in children:

Yellow Mucus

Yellow mucus is a type of discharge that’s caused by the same bacteria that cause pink eye in adults. It usually happens when your child has an upper respiratory infection, such as a cold, and it can sometimes be accompanied by a fever.

The good news is that this type of discharge doesn’t last very long. It should clear up within two days or so. If it doesn’t or if there are other symptoms that are getting worse, you should bring your baby to the doctor for evaluation.

White Mucus Balls

White mucus balls are a type of eye discharge in babies that can be caused by a number of different things. It might be dacryocystitis, which is an inflammation in the lacrimal sac, or it might mean your baby has a cold and is just congested.

If you notice white mucus balls rolling down your baby’s cheeks or draining out of their eyes, it’s important to check with your pediatrician before you assume it’s cause for concern.

Stringy, White Mucus

Stringy, white mucus is most often a symptom of allergic conjunctivitis. It’s caused by the eyes being irritated due to an allergy to something in the environment, such as dust or pollen.

Allergic conjunctivitis affects both eyes and causes them to feel itchy, scratchy and irritated. It can also cause redness and discharge in the eye.

If your baby has stringy, white mucus coming from their eyes, they may also have swollen eyelids, watery eyes, an itchy nose, and sneezing.

Allergic conjunctivitis usually clears up within two weeks, but if it doesn’t go away or gets worse after two weeks, you should see your doctor or optometrist for treatment options.

Dry, Tiny Mucus Particles

Dry, tiny mucus particles can be a sign of dry eye syndrome. This condition is caused by a deficiency in tears, which are necessary to lubricate and protect the surface of your eyes. Dry eye syndrome causes your eyes to become red and irritated, which can be very uncomfortable.

It’s a common problem that affects one in five people throughout their lifetime.

If you notice your baby has this kind of discharge, it might be a good idea to see a doctor right away, especially if it happens consistently and doesn’t improve after a few days.

Thick, Crusty Mucus

If your baby’s eyes are red, watery, and crusted over with thick mucus, it could be a sign of blepharitis.

The best way to treat it is with warm compresses and antibiotic eye drops. However, if you suspect your baby has this condition, talk to your doctor immediately. It can get worse if left untreated.

What Eye Discharge Can Reveal About Your Health

Eye discharge is an often overlooked health indicator, but it can hold valuable information about your eyes and the rest of your body. This condition can be a symptom of different health problems.

You can learn a lot about your general health by examining the color and consistency of your eye discharge.

Here’s what your eye discharge can reveal about your health: 

Unclear Eye Discharge

Yellow, green, or white eye mucus can signify conjunctivitis. Other causes of cloudy-looking goop in your eyes include the following:

  • Allergies (such as seasonal allergies)
  • Dry eye syndrome

Watery Eyes

Watery eyes are often the first sign that you have allergies or a cold. But if your eyes are constantly watery, it could be something else.

If this happens to you, make an appointment with your doctor immediately. Your doctor may be able to determine what’s causing the discharge and help you find a solution.

Thick & Sticky Boogers

It’s not uncommon to have a bit of gunk in your eyes when you wake up in the morning. But if you’ve noticed that your eye discharge is unusually thick and sticky, it could be a sign of dacryocystitis.

Dacryocystitis is an infection of the tear ducts, which carry tears from your eyes to the nose. It can cause redness, pain, swelling, or a pus-like discharge from one or both eyes.

If you have symptoms like these and are experiencing eye discharge that’s thicker than usual, see your doctor right away.

Treatment for Eye Discharge

If you’re experiencing eye discharge or eye boogers, here are a few solutions to get rid of them:

  • Keep your eyes clean. If you have allergies, try using over-the-counter allergy medicine to relieve the symptoms and make it easier to keep your eyes clean.
  • Wash your hands before touching your face or eyes. Washing your hands regularly will help to prevent spreading germs from one area to another. It can also reduce irritation from dirt or makeup.
  • You can help break up the mucus in your eyelids by putting a warm compress on them for 10 minutes daily. This can make it easier to remove crust from around the eyes.
  • Use saline solution instead of eye drops to relieve dry eyes. Saline flushes irritants from your eyes, which may be causing the discharge.

With infections such as conjunctivitis, treatment depends on the underlying cause. You should see your doctor immediately to get a diagnosis. Treatment with antibiotics may be necessary for some infections, and follow-up care is recommended

When to Seek Professional Help for Eye Discharge

While you may have heard that eye mucus is a normal reaction of your immune system against foreign invaders and not an indication of anything wrong, it’s still important to seek professional help. It’s always best to be assessed by a professional, but see a doctor promptly if you experience any of the following:

  • The discharge is yellow or green, which could be a sign of conjunctivitis.
  • The discharge is thick and stringy, which could be a sign of dry eye.
  • The discharge is clumped together into hard balls, which could be a sign of cataracts or glaucoma.
  • Your eyes are sensitive to light.
  • You experience a change in vision.
  • You have difficulty opening your eyes due to swelling or sticky discharge.

For most people, eye boogers are a daily occurrence. Like most things in the body, some people will experience them more than others. If your eyes are worsening or you have other symptoms affecting them, it may be time for a health care provider to examine them. If no other unusual symptoms are present, chances are good that nothing is wrong with your eyes. But see a professional if it’s a persistent problem.

References

  1. The Latest Thinking on Dry Eye Treatments. (October 2022). Harvard Health Publishing.

  2. Primary Acquired Nasolacrimal Duct Obstruction (PANDO): Diagnosis, Treatment, and Referral Guidelines. Harvard Medical School: Department of Ophthalmology.

  3. Blepharitis. (August 2020). National Eye Institute.

  4. Eye-Pus or Discharge. (October 2022). Seattle Children’s Hospital.

  5. A Contemporary Look at Allergic Conjunctivitis. (January 2020). Allergy, Asthma & Clinical Immunology.

  6. Conjunctivitis (Pink Eye). (January 2019). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

  7. Tear Duct-Blocked. (October 2022). Seattle Children’s Hospital.

  8. Clinical Management Guidelines. (November 2021). The College of Optometrists.

  9. Eye Care. (May 2022). Health Direct.

  10. Conjunctivitis (Pink Eye) Treatment. (January 2019). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

  11. Eye Discharge. (May 2022). Health Direct.

  12. Conjunctivitis: A Systematic Review of Diagnosis and Treatment. (October 2013). JAMA.

  13. Conjunctivitis: A Systematic Review. (July – September 2020). Journal of Ophthalmic and Vision Research.

  14. A Review of the Differential Diagnosis of Acute Infectious Conjunctivitis: Implications for Treatment and Management. (March 2020). Clinical Ophthalmology.

  15. The Allergic Eye: Recommendations About Pharmacotherapy and Recent Therapeutic Agents. (August 2020). Current Opinion in Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

  16. Association of Allergic Conjunctivitis With Health-Related Quality of Life in Children and Their Parents. (June 2021). JAMA Ophthalmology.

Last Updated December 20, 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.