what causes eye discharge

Overview

When you wake up in the morning, do you notice the hardened gunk that forms in the corner of your eyes that often gets stuck to your eyelashes? Ever wondered what that is and why that occurs?

When you’re awake, you blink the gunk away which is a mixture of mucus and oil. However, when you’re sleeping, your eyes don’t blink and hence the gunk begins to collect in the corner of your eyes. This gunk is termed ‘rheum’. 

Sometimes eye discharge can point towards an underlying problem. When a person notices a change in the frequency of it appearing, the colour, the amount, or if it’s appearing continuously while awake, a healthcare practitioner should be contacted. 

Discharge during the day, while you are awake, is a sign of a more serious condition.

What are the causes of eye discharge?

The presence of mild eye discharge upon awakening is normal, however, excessive discharge can be a cause of an infection or medical condition. 

Some of the causes of eye discharge are:

  • Conjunctivitis– Also known as pink eye, is a contagious condition that is accompanied by redness, swelling, pain in the eyes. It can occur due to any particular bacteria, allergy, etc. A common symptom of pink eyes is eye discharge. 
  • Contact lenses Wearing your contact lenses for several hours may irritate your eyes. This can lead to more eye discharge than normal when you wake up in the morning. Do not sleep in your contact lenses
  • Dacryocystitis is a condition in which your tear ducts get blocked leading to the production of a sticky discharge. Infants are more likely to be affected by this condition. 
  • Dry eye syndrome This condition occurs when your tears don’t lubricate your eyes enough causing them to get dry. When this happens, your nervous system gets a signal to send some fluid. Emergency tears are sent which don’t have the same nourishing balance as regular tears as they have more mucus. This can lead to gunk in the corner of your eyes.
  • Corneal ulcer Sometimes, a corneal ulcer could develop in the case of chronic dry eyes or a serious infection. 
  • Blepharitis- An inflammation of the eyelash hairs leading to swelling and pain around the eyes can also cause discharge from the eyes. This is because of abnormal oil production around the hair follicles. 
  • Eye injury or trauma Sand/dust/perfume can irritate your eyes and cause trauma/injury to the structures of the organ. This can cause eye discharge. 

If the discharge has blood or pus, contact your healthcare practitioner immediately.

causes of eye discharge

When to contact a doctor for eye discharge?

Some eye discharge when you wake up in the morning is normal, however excessive discharge accompanied by the following symptoms should be brought to medical attention:

  • Blurry vision
  • Redness around the eye 
  • Swelling 
  • Pain- burning or stinging sensation
  • Yellow/green discharge
  • Eyes are stuck with pus when you wake up 
  • Light sensitivity 

You should consult your healthcare practitioner if your eye discharge becomes excessive and doesn’t improve after a week. 

What is mucus fishing syndrome?

When mucus continually develops and a person keeps removing them from their eye, it is known as mucus fishing syndrome. The name refers to the way a person literally “fishes” the mucus from their eye.

Diagnosis of eye discharge

If the eye discharge is excessive, contact your healthcare practitioner as soon as possible. 

Diagnosing mucus fishing syndrome is easy as the patient often simply needs to report and show what they’re doing. If the patient uses their finger to touch the surface of the eye or the inside of the eyelid, the diagnosis is clear.

The doctor will ask several questions based on your medical history. They will then perform a physical examination and examine your eye. The diagnosis will be made depending on your symptoms. 

Your healthcare provider may collect a sample of eye discharge from your eye and send it to the laboratory to help them determine which form of infection you have. 

causes of eye discharge

Treatment for eye discharge

For mucus fishing syndrome, the doctor will simply ask you to stop fishing which might be challenging at first, but will eventually break the cycle. 

If an eye infection and pink eye is the cause of eye discharge, your eye specialist may prescribe antibiotic, antiviral or anti-allergen eye drops and ointments.

Doctors do tear duct blockage surgery to open a blocked tear duct. For Blepharitis self-care measures, such as washing your eyes and using warm compresses, might be all that’s needed. However, if self-care measures aren’t enough, your doctor might suggest prescription treatments. (Also read: What Are Signs And Symptoms Of Cataract?)

Home remedies to prevent or treat eye discharge

Before practising the following home remedies for eye discharge, it is important to contact and seek guidance from your healthcare practitioner:

  • Saline is one of the most effective home remedies for eye infections. Saline is similar to teardrops, which is your eye’s natural way of cleansing itself. Sterile saline can be bought from a pharmacy. 
  • Warm compression can soothe the symptoms of many conditions, such as dry eye, pink eye, blepharitis, etc. 
  • Cold compression, like warm compression, can help soothe the symptoms and help with swelling. 
  • Wash your towels and linens daily. 
  • Don’t share your eye make up. 
  • Don’t wear your contact lenses longer than recommended. 
  • Wash your hands before touching your eyes. 

Takeaway

Although waking up with crusty eyes is normal, it is important to notice the frequency and colour of what’s stuck in the corner of your eyes. If the problem persists, contact your eye specialist immediately to seek guidance. 

In the meantime, take the precautions listed and try not to touch your eyes and the area around them. If you need to rub or touch your eyes, thoroughly wash your hands first.

FAQ

Do you get immune to conjunctivitis once you’ve had it?

No, having it once doesn’t mean that you cannot have it again in the future. Bacteria and viruses that cause conjunctivitis can occur at any time. 

Why does my eye discharge stink? 

Foul-smelling eye discharge is a common symptom of pink eyes. The colour of discharge you have can often help to show what form of conjunctivitis you have. Green or yellow discharge usually indicates bacterial conjunctivitis.

Contact your eye specialist for further information. 

Does everyone wake up with eye mucus?

Eye discharge while waking up is actually a sign of a healthy functioning eye. It is very normal to wake up with this. Some may have less, some may have slightly more during the dry season.