Usually referred to as eye boogers, gunk, goop, or sleepy sands, eye discharge is a combination of mucus, oil, skin cells, and other debris. The discharge can either be wet and sticky or dry and crusty.
As you’re asleep and not blinking, eye discharge accumulates in the corner of your eyes or along your lashes at times. While some amount of discharge upon waking is normal, excessive discharge that’s colored could mean a serious infection or a disease and should be examined by a qualified medical professional promptly.
What Is Eye Discharge?
Eye discharge, also known as rheum, is a function of your tear film and a vital part of good eye health. It is a harmless part of your body’s natural defense system and has a protective function in removing waste products and potentially harmful debris from the tear film as well as the front surface of your eyes. Your eyes produce mucus throughout the day. When you blink, a continuous, thin film of tears cleans out the rheum before it hardens in your eyes. Eye discharge can be found in children and adults and affects males and females equally.1
Symptoms Of Eye Discharge
The symptoms of eye discharge depend on what is actually causing them. However, additional symptoms may include blurred vision and photo phobia or sensitivity to light. You could also have burning, itchy, dry, sore, watery, or bloodshot eyes. At times, you might have fever, cough, body aches, nasal congestion, or sneezing accompanying the eye discharge. This usually indicates a bacterial or a viral infection. If left untreated, it could lead to severe complications like corneal problems or vision loss.
Causes And Types Of Eye Discharge
When you don’t blink, you end up reducing the production of tears used to protect your eyes. These tears coagulate and form small, dry crust balls. As a defensive reaction, your eyes produce a discharge that forms a sticky yellow crust. Though this formation is temporary in most cases, it can indicate a more serious problem in some instances.
Bacterial and viral eye infections are highly contagious and can spread through contact with an infected person.
Referred to as pink eye, conjunctivitis can be differentiated into 3 major forms – bacterial, viral, and allergic. A thick yellow or green discharge signifies a bacterial infection and a thin, clear, or distinct yellow discharge is because of a viral infection.2 A stringy and white discharge signifies allergic conjunctivitis and can result in red or pink eyes. Our tears contain water, mucus, oil, vitamins, minerals, and enzymes. Tears that lack water lead to a condition called dry eye syndrome. In this condition, the mucus and oil form in the corners of your eyes while you sleep.3
Your tear ducts can get blocked because of an injury, infection, or even a tumor. This prevents the proper drainage of tears and results in mucus as well as excess tears settling in the corners of your eyes. While this is a significant issue in adults, it is normal for a newborn during the first year. Blepharitis is another form of bacterial infection that affects your eyelids. It leads to the production of a crusty mucus discharge and redness in the eyes. Something as simple as improper hand washing or a complex skin condition like psoriasis can cause this infection. When your eyelids get infected with blepharitis, it leads to the production of a yellow, thick discharge. This is also seen with the common cold and flu.
Treatment For Eye Discharge At Home
If you’ve woken up with hard or liquid discharge in the corner of your eyes, remember to follow this at-home checklist for effective relief.4
1. Use A Warm Compress
Take a warm and wet towel and place it on your eyes for a couple of minutes. Now, gently wipe away the mucus. Using a warm compress can also help you get rid of the itchiness that accompanies this discharge.
2. Wash Your Eyes And Hands Thoroughly
Besides being an unpleasant sight, eye boogers contain dirt that’s already washed away from your eye surface. You can use any gentle soap to remove flakes, hard crusts, or oil from the outside edges of your eyes and eyelids. Gently massage the top of your eyelids in a downward motion to remove any excess oil from under your eyelids. Washing your hands frequently can help you prevent the spreading and contracting of an eye infection. Ensure that you don’t share any hand towels or other items when your eyes are infected.
3. Avoid Allergens
Smoke, pet dander, mold, and dust are all triggers of an allergic reaction and should be avoided altogether to prevent further eye infection. If you have any pets, remember to wash your hands with a gentle soap after interaction and before you rub your eyes.
4. Remove Contacts
Since it’s in such close contact with your eyes, contacts need to be cleaned at every step and maintained well in a storage case. If you see any mucus formation during the day or the night, remove your contacts and give your eyes some time to recover completely. You could even replace your lenses before using it again. You should also consider replacing your eye makeup products, including eyeliners, eye shadow brushes, or mascara wands after having an infection to avoid a recurrence. Remember to avoid eye makeup products altogether if you still have an eye infection.
There are a whole host of treatments available today if you wish to get rid of eye discharge. While some of them can be cured with at-home remedies, others would require a prompt visit to a qualified doctor.