Eye Boogers, Eye Mucus and Discharge: Causes and Treatments

Eye Boogers, Eye Mucus, and Discharge: Causes and Treatments
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It is common to find eye mucus in the corner of your eyes or crusts on your eyelashes in the morning when you awake from sleep. Usually, during the day time, blinking washes the clear-looking discharge from your eye. But while you are sleeping the mucus can build up and form into eye goop which is why you often find this gunk in your eyes in the morning. Some people call this eye discharge, eye boogers, eye sleep, or sleepy sands.

If you have too much eye mucus in your eyes in the morning or during the day, this can be due to an eye infection, dry eye syndrome, a sty in your eye, or blocked tear duct. Depending on the severity of your condition, you may just have little crusty specks that stick to the corner of your eye or the eye discharge could be so much that your eyelids stick together.

In this article, we will look at the reasons why eye mucus can build up and cause irritation and discomfort in your eyes. You will also find out how to treat the underlying causes of having too much eye discharge and how to get rid of the pesky eye boogers naturally.

What is Eye Mucus?

Glands produce mucus to protect the delicate surface of your eyes, mouth, and nose from dirt and grime.

The journal Experimental Eye Research says that the mucous layer of the cornea and conjunctiva protect the eye from germs and grime sticking to the eyeball. It also helps to hydrate the eye and prevent dry-eye problems. When you blink, a thin layer of mucus is also present in the tear fluid that helps to hydrate the eye and remove any foreign object on the surface of the eye.1

Doctors have found that certain health conditions that affect the eye can cause either too much eye mucus to be discharged or not enough.

Because eye mucus is similar to the mucus that is discharged from the nose, many people refer to a buildup of eye mucus as eye boogers. The thick discharge can also dry out and become crusty and cause more irritation to your eye when you try to remove it. Sleep in your eyes, sleep dust, and eye gunk are other names for eye mucus.

Symptoms of Eye Boogers and Eye Mucus

Discharge from the eyes is usually clear and watery. According to Dr. William Blahd on WebMD, small amounts of mucus-like discharge that is white or yellow is common in the morning.2

Dr. Blahd says that if there is an infection, then along with the eye mucus, you may have symptoms of itchy eyes that feel scratchy and have red eyelids and possibly redness in the whites of your eyes. You also may notice thick drainage from the eye that causes the eyelids to stick together during the night. When you clean the eye mucus, you could also have swelling around the eyelids.

Because colds and the flu cause the body to discharge extra mucus, you may also have classic upper respiratory infection symptoms like a runny nose, sneezing, and a fever.

Causes of Mucus in the Eye

Let’s look at the common causes of an abnormal amount of mucus in the eye. Very often, you can get rid of the eye boogers easily with some of the home treatments that are mentioned at the end of the article.

Pink eye (conjunctivitis)

Mucus in your eye in the morning could be caused by pink eye, which is also called conjunctivitis. The term pink eye is given because along with the eye mucus, the inner eyelid and white of the eye will be red and inflamed.

According to Dr. Alan Kozarsky on WebMD, pink eye causes thick mucus in the eye after sleep, a burning sensation in the eye, and possibly blurred vision due to the excess mucus on the surface of the eye.3 There are various types of eye inflammation that cause a thick discharge to appear in the eye and become crusty.

Viral conjunctivitis. The common cold virus can cause viral pink eye that is very contagious. The symptoms of viral conjunctivitis can range from mild to severe.

According to Dr. Mary Lowth on Patient.info, viral conjunctivitis usually starts in one eye before spreading to the other eye. This causes a watery, sticky mucus discharge that is crusty in the morning. You should always wash your hands after touching an infected eye to prevent the infection spreading to your other eye or other people.4

Bacterial conjunctivitis. Children and infants often get bacterial conjunctivitis that causes yellowish-white mucus in the eye. However, bacterial pink eye can affect people of all ages.

Dr. Mary Lowth says that a bacterial pink eye infection often causes the eyelids to stick shut even during the day time. The eye mucus will be thicker and stickier rather than the watery discharge that viral conjunctivitis causes. This type of bacterial pink eye is also infectious and you should wash your hand before and after touching your affected eye.4

Allergic conjunctivitis. If the eye mucus is watery and thin and you have a gritty sensation in your eye, then you could suffer from allergic conjunctivitis.

The Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy says that the symptoms of allergic “red eye” are redness and watery discharge in both eyes, burning of the eye and surrounding tissue, and swelling of the eyelids. Usually, flushing the eye with a soothing natural remedy like chamomile tea can help to remove the allergen and reduce mucus and swelling.5

If allergies are causing swelling and excess mucus around your eyes, you can try using one of my natural antihistamines to reduce allergy symptoms.

Most doctors recommend using a cold compress to get relief from the discomfort pink eye causes. You should also stop wearing contact lenses while you have conjunctivitis and use glasses to avoid further irritation to the conjunctiva.

At the end of the article, you can find recipes for natural home remedies to relieve irritation that conjunctivitis causes.

Eye infection

Apart from eye infections that cause pink eye, there are other types of eye infections that can increase mucus and eye gunk. Dr. Kathleen Romito on WebMD says that irritation or a minor eye injury can cause an eye infection that produces white or creamy eye mucus. Also, the herpes zoster virus (shingles) can cause symptoms of an eye infection and cause you to wake up with sleep in your eyes.6

Eye stye

An eye stye (eye sty or external hordeolum) can cause a bump on your eyelids that results in pus forming in the rim of your eye. Eye styes are caused by bacteria infecting a blocked eyelash follicle on the eyelid. It can be a very painful experience as the bump fills with pus, becomes inflamed and red.

Doctors from the Victoria State Government say that the stye can cause irritation that causes watery discharge from the eye along with an itchy sensation. White pus may also drain from the stye if the eye stye pops open. Doctors don’t recommend squeezing the stye as this can cause the infection to go deeper into the tissue surrounding the eye.7

One of the ways to get rid of an eye stye naturally and reduce irritation is to use a warm compress. This helps to increase circulation to the affected area and helps to speed up the healing time.

Dry eyes

You may notice eye boogers when you get up in the morning if you suffer from dry eyes. Usually, every time you blink, a layer of tear fluid lubricates your eyes and prevents irritation. When your glands don’t produce enough tear film (mucin deficiency), the health of your eye can suffer.

According to researchers at the National Eye Institute, symptoms of dry eyes include discharge from the eye along with pain, redness, and irritation. However, dry eye syndrome can have the opposite effect – it can cause excess tearing that can give your eyes a watery-look.8

Dry eyes may be another reason why your eye twitches involuntarily.

Blocked tear ducts

Thin watery mucus draining from the corner of your eye or thick eye mucus caused by an infection could be due to a blocked tear duct. You may experience a blockage of the tear duct after a cold or sinus infection.

Dr. Stephen Lipsky from the American Academy of Ophthalmology says that a blocked tear duct can cause watery discharge from the eyes. However, because bacteria can infect the tear duct, you are at risk to get eye infections that causes inflammation and thicker yellow discharge to form at the corner of the eye. The tear duct blockage can also result in mucus crusting on your eyelashes.9

Use of contact lenses

Many people who use contact lenses suffer from excess mucus forming in their eyes as they sleep. Dr. Brian Wachler on WebMD says that wearing contact lenses increases your risk of developing keratitis, eye infections, or pink eye.10

Dr. Wachler recommends stopping wearing contact lenses for a time if they cause gooey mucus to form in your eyes that sticks to your eyelids. Along with the eye discharge, irritation from contact lenses can cause redness and swelling on your eyelids or constant itching in your eye. Usually, a doctor or ophthalmologist will diagnose the cause of the eye irritation.

To prevent eye infections if you wear contact lenses, you should do the following:

  • Keep your lenses clean and always follow the instructions on the cleaning solution label.
  • Wash your hand before changing your contacts.
  • Don’t sleep with your contacts as this could cause eye boogers in the morning.
  • Remove contacts before showering, bathing, or swimming.

Keratitis

Keratitis is inflammation of the tissue on the front of your eye and can cause extra discharge and mucus in your eye. According to doctors from the Mayo Clinic, keratitis can be caused by a viral, fungal, bacterial or parasitic infection. If left untreated, keratitis can damage your vision permanently.11

Dr. Devin Harrison from the American Academy of Ophthalmology says that the different types of keratitis cause excessive tearing from your eyes as well as eye discharge. Apart from the mucus sticking to your eyelids, pain or irritation may make it difficult to open your eyelids.12

If you have symptoms of eye pain, redness and swelling around the eyes, sensitivity to light, and blurry vision along with too much mucus in your eyes, you should visit your doctor.

Belpharitis

Belpharitis is a condition in which the eyelids are inflamed, and it commonly occurs when tiny oil glands located near the base of the eyelashes become clogged. Apart from red and swollen eyelids, burning or itching sensation in the eyes, it can cause flaking of the skin around the eyes and crusted eyelashes upon awakening.23

How to Naturally Treat Eye Boogers and Eye Mucus

For mild eye infections that cause eye boogers and eye mucus, there are many recommended home remedies to treat the symptoms. These natural methods help to soothe irritated eyes and prevent excess discharge affecting your eyes and vision.

Warm compress

A warm compress can help eliminate excess mucus from your eye that is caused by conjunctivitis or a stye in your eye. The heat from the compress helps to draw blood to the affected area to speed up healing and the moisture from the compress can clean away thick eye mucus.

Dr. William Blahd on WebMD says that a warm compress will help to soothe irritation and reduce swelling and redness in pinkeye.13 Also, researchers from Drugs.com say that a clean wet washcloth dipped in warm water can help to treat an eye stye.14

How to use:

To help keep mucus from forming in your eye and get rid of eye boogers, use the warm compress this way:

  1. Wash your hands in hot soapy water.
  2. Dip a clean wash cloth in warm water.
  3. Hold it to your affected eye for 10 to 15 minutes.
  4. Repeat 3-4 times a day to help clear away mucus from the affected eye and promote healing.
  5. Wash your hands.

If you have conjunctivitis in both eyes, use a different wash cloth for each eye to prevent spreading infection or making the condition worse.

Always remember to wipe eye goop and mucus from your eye from the corner (beside your nose) toward the outside. If you use tissues to remove the boogers from your eye, then discard the used tissues immediately to prevent germs spreading.

Black tea bag

One way to get rid of conjunctivitis naturally and prevent excess mucus forming in your eye at night time is to use black tea bags.

Studies have shown that black tea contains antiviral and antioxidant properties15 that can help to reduce skin and eye infections. Also, black tea is a rich source of tannins which are natural astringents and can help reduce redness and swelling.16

The benefits of using tea bags for removing eye discharge and helping to soothe eye irritation is that they act like mini-warm compresses with medicinal properties to boost healing.

How to use:

To help treat a mild eye infection or conjunctivitis that is causing eye mucus, you can use black tea bags this way:

  1. Put a tea bag in a cup of boiling water to extract the medicinal properties.
  2. Remove the tea bag and allow it to cool until it is warm to touch.
  3. Place on the affected eye (you can use 2 tea bags and place on both eyes if necessary).
  4. Use 4 times a day and repeat daily until you no longer have symptoms of discharge, redness, and swelling in your eye.

Chamomile tea

Another great natural remedy to treat eye infections that cause mucus is chamomile. Chamomile is a well-known herb for its healing and soothing properties.

According to a review on the medicinal properties of chamomile tea, it is traditionally used for treating bacterial and viral conjunctivitis and helping to unblock tear ducts.17 However, chamomile may not be useful if you have allergic conjunctivitis because some people can be allergic to it.18

How to use:

To help wash out mucus and eye boogers and soften crusty eyelids, you can use chamomile in a number of ways on your eyes. You can make a warm chamomile eye compress the same way as the black tea compress or you can make a natural and soothing eye wash.

  1. Fill a cup half full of boiling water and put in a heaped teaspoon of chamomile tea or one chamomile tea bag.
  2. Cover the cup and let it steep for 5 minutes.
  3. Remove the cover and allow the tea to cool so that it is warm.
  4. With a clean hand, dip a cotton pad in the chamomile solution and wipe your affected eye from the corner to the outside.
  5. Discard the cotton pad.
  6. Repeat if necessary.
  7. Use 4 times a day until the itching, redness, and mucus have gone from your eye completely.

Calendula

Calendula is another great herb that you can use to wash pus and mucus from an infected eye or use as a warm eye compress to get rid of excess eye discharge.

Pediatrician and expert on holistic medicine, Dr. Kathi Kemper reports that calendula is beneficial in treating conjunctivitis. Extracts from the Calendula plant can be made into eye washes and warm compresses to reduce redness, irritation, and prevent excess green or yellow mucus forming in the eye.19

To use calendula to treat eye infections and prevent them getting worse, you can make the home remedy the same way as for the chamomile eye treatment by using calendula tea bags.

Eyebright

Eyebright is an herb that is traditionally used to treat various eye ailments. It is a common treatment for getting rid of the symptoms of conjunctivitis and other eye infections that cause eye mucus.

Doctors on WebMD report that eyebright is used to reduce inflammation of the eyelids, prevent mucous membrane inflammation of the eyes and stop mucus “gluing” eyelids shut.20 The Journal of Alternative and Complementary medicine reports that eyebright can be used for various conjunctival conditions and is safe to use.21

How to use:

To use eyebright for pink eye or other types of eye infection, this is what you should do:

  1. Put a few drops of eyebright tincture in boiling water and allow to cool.
  2. Soak a clean cotton pad in the natural remedy and hold the compress on the affected closed eye to help loosen eye pus.
  3. If you need to treat infection in the other eye, discard the used cotton pad and repeat the process with a new one.
  4. Repeat 4 times a day and continue applying daily until your conjunctivitis has gone completely.

How to Prevent Eye Mucus

To stop eye boogers forming and becoming an irritation in the morning or at other times of the day, there are a number of ways to prevent eye mucus forming to excess. These preventative methods will also reduce the frequency that you wake up with crusty eyelids.

  • Don’t go to bed with makeup on and replace any eye makeup after you have had an eye infection.
  • Never share cosmetics with others to avoid catching mucus-causing eye infections.
  • Always wash your hands to prevent spreading germs to your eyes that could cause an infection.
  • Avoid sharing towels, washcloths, and pillowcases with others to avoid catching contagious pink eye.
  • In sunny weather, wear sunglasses to prevent straining your eyes that can lead to excess tearing.

Eye Mucus – When to See a Doctor

Some types of eye infections can become very serious and may even lead to blindness if not treated appropriately.

Doctors from the Mayo Clinic advise seeing a doctor for eye problems if you have the following symptoms:22

  • The mucus or discharge in your eye is affecting your vision.
  • Your vision changes suddenly.
  • The eye irritation has been caused by a foreign object or chemicals in your eye.
  • You are unable to keep your eyelids open.
  • You have become extra sensitive to light
  • You have a constant feeling that there is something in your eye.

Read these related articles:

Article Sources

  1. Exp Eye Res. 2013 Dec; 117: 62–78.
  2. WebMD. Drainage from the eyes.
  3. WebMD. What is conjunctivitis or pinkeye?
  4. PatientInfo. Infective conjunctivitis.
  5. Allergy. Allergic conjunctivitis.
  6. WebMD. Signs of eye infection.
  7. BetterHealth. Styes.
  8. NEI. Facts about dry eye.
  9. AAO. Blocked tear duct symptoms.
  10. WebMD. Contact lenses and eye infections.
  11. MayoClinic. Keratitis.
  12. AAO. What are keratitis symptoms?
  13. WebMD. Pinkeye – home treatment.
  14. Drugs. Stye.
  15. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2009 May;49(5):379-404
  16. J Appl Toxicol. 1992 Jun;12(3):191-2.
  17. Mol Med Report. 2010 Nov 1; 3(6): 895–901.
  18. Ann Allergy. 1990 Aug;65(2):127-32.
  19. LongWoodHerbal. Calendula.
  20. WebMD. Eyebright.
  21. J Alter Comp Med. 2007 Sept;6(6): 499-508.
  22. MayoClinic. Keratitis.
  23. MayoClinic. Blepharitis
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