Eye Discharge

For the most part, eye discharge is harmless. However, sometimes it can be an indication of a more serious condition. Read on to learn what causes the discharge and what can be done to stop it.

Eye discharge is a yellowish, sticky, crusty substance that can sometimes make your eye’s feel glued shut. It can be temporary such as when you wake up in the morning, or persistent in which medical attention should be considered. Usually the eye discharges are harmless and it is part of your body’s natural defense system, however some causes are serious, but there are treatment options.

Causes of Eye Discharge

There are many different causes as to why your eye produces discharge. Most are harmless, but some causes can be the result of a more serious condition. The first and the most common reason is waking up with discharge in the corners of your eyes. This discharge is a sign that some form of bacteria, either from make-up or extra oily skin has tried to make its way into your eye while you were sleeping. A bacteria invasion can lead to a more serious condition like Blepharitis, which is an inflammation at the base of your eyelashes that produces the thick, yellowish pus filled with bacteria-fighting white blood cells. Many people who are sick with cold or flu tend to have more eye discharge as well. A sticky and yellowish discharge that seals your eyes shut is a natural defense to conditions such as pinkeye. Pinkeye is a virus infection that attacks the membrane that covers the eyeball. A thinner, clearer and less-crusty discharge could be the result of allergies or a cold/flu and usually goes away once the irritating factors are eliminated. Pollen, gusty winds, dry eyes or an eyelash can cause an irritation which will lead to the discharge.

Other, more serious causes of eye discharge can be associated with medical conditions such as Conjunctivitis and corneal ulcers. A corneal ulcer is an open sore in the outer layer of the cornea and is associated with infections and bacteria. Conjunctivitis is an inflammation or infection of the membrane that lines the eyelids. Both of these conditions can lead to more serious eye problems, so if you’re experiencing pain, eye swelling or visual changes as well as eye discharge, you should go see your eye care professional immediately.

Treatment of Eye Discharge

Depending on why your eyes are producing the discharge, there are different treatments you can do, either at home or by visiting your doctor. If the discharge is severe, check with your doctor about receiving oral antibiotics or antibiotic eye drops to reduce the symptoms. Other steps you can take that are considered “at-home” methods include:

Using a warm washcloth if your eyes are glued shut. The warmth of the washcloth will loosen the crust and allow you to open your eyes.

Throwing away old make-up, especially make-up that was used while you had an infection in your eyes will greatly reduce the chances of the infection coming back. Contaminated cosmetics are the leading cause to eye infection, and if not thrown away you’ll be reapplying the bacteria.

You can also remove oil from your eyelids by washing them with a baby shampoo or other mild detergent. Massaging the lids with a downward motion will help push out oils. Upper lids should be massaged and patted down with a tissue to remove the excess oil. More often, eye doctors recommend commercial eyelid scrubs that can be applied if you’re wary about using a homemade solution.

Avoid sharing towels and washcloths if possible. This can spread bacteria quickly and either give yourself or others the problem.

  • H. Winter, MD, S. Moore, MD, K. Yoder, MD “Complete Guide to Symptoms, Illness & Surgery” (The Berkeley Publishing Group, 2006) 235
  • Daily News & Analysis, Have eye flu? Avoid Steroids, June 25, 2011 http://www.dnaindia.com
  • J. Lavine, MD “The Eye Care Sourcebook” (Contemporary Books, 2001) 98-99
This article was last updated on 07/2013