Types of Eye Discharge and What They Mean

Eye mucus is a normal part of every day. Your eyes have mucous membranes—the tissue that lines body cavities and many organs. Mucous membranes have glands that make mucus. As your eyes make mucus, they also wash it away when you blink with fluid from the tear ducts. But occasionally, you get a buildup in mucus that results in boogers in your eyes. Here’s a look at what mucus in eye corners, eyelids and eyelashes could mean.

  • Tired young man with smartphone sitting on bed at home rubbing eyes
    Morning Mucus or Sleep Crust
    It’s normal to notice a small amount of mucus in the morning. People often call this “sleep” or “sleep crust.” It happens because you aren’t blinking during the night. This allows mucus and other debris from the day to accumulate. You may notice it in the corners of your eyes or even scattered along your eyelids. It can be soft or crusty and cream-colored, yellowish, clear or white. This kind of eye discharge isn’t anything concerning. Simply wipe it away with a tissue or wash your face and eyes with warm water.
  • Sick Young Woman Wiping Eye With Tissue Against Brick Wall
    Thick Eye Mucus
    When eye mucus is thick, sticky or gooey, it could be a sign of a bacterial infection. This can cause gray, green or yellowish discharge from the eye. Bacterial infections can include conjunctivitis—or pink eye—and keratitis—an infection of the cornea. Pink eye usually isn’t serious, but keratitis can lead to blindness. See your doctor right away if you have sudden eye pain, light sensitivity, vision changes, or excess tearing or discharge. Your doctor will likely prescribe antibiotic eye drops for either of these infections.
  • Young Woman Wiping Away Tears
    Watery Mucus
    Watery mucus can also be a sign of an infection, usually viral conjunctivitis. This is the most common type of pink eye. It is highly contagious and can spread like wildfire through schools, daycares, and other group situations. Viral pink eye usually goes away without treatment, as your body fights off the infection. However, you should call your doctor if symptoms persist for several days. Washing your hands often and thoroughly is the best way to prevent pink eye.
  • Boy putting in eye drops
    Stringy Mucus
    Stringy eye mucus typically happens with dry eye. Dry eye is a condition where the eyes don’t make enough tear film or make an abnormal tear film. Tear film is the fluid that lubricates your eye. When you blink, you spread the tear film across your eye.

    Tear film has three components—water, oil and mucus. In dry eye, less water in the tear film means the oil and mucus are the main components. Without water to keep them fluid, they combine to make stringy eye discharge. Your doctor can suggest treatments for dry eye depending on the cause.

  • eye-with-chalazion
    Eye Mucus with a Bump
    Sometimes, eye discharge occurs along with a lump or bump at the base of an eyelash or under the eyelid. If eye mucus only occurs in this area, or you see pus in the bump, it could be a stye. Styes are painful, small, red bumps at the edge of the eyelids that are usually due to a bacterial infection. In some cases, styes can cause the whole eyelid to swell. If you have these symptoms, see your doctor promptly. Never squeeze a stye or try to pop it.
  • man-with-pink-eye
    Crusty Eyelashes
    Eye mucus can spread across the eyelids, causing a crust to form along the eyelashes. Sometimes, the crust can be so gooey it glues the eyelids closed. Other times, it’s just small crusts wrapped around the eyelash base. When it’s thick, it’s usually a sign of an infection, such as conjunctivitis. Lightly crusted eyelashes may be a symptom of a blocked tear duct or blepharitis—inflammation of the eyelids. Warm compresses can help loosen the crust. Your doctor may also recommend other treatments depending on the cause.
Types of Eye Discharge & What They Mean

About The Author

Sarah Lewis is a pharmacist and a medical writer with over 25 years of experience in various areas of pharmacy practice. Sarah holds a Bachelor of Science in Pharmacy degree from West Virginia University and a Doctor of Pharmacy degree from Massachusetts College of Pharmacy. She completed Pharmacy Practice Residency training at the University of Pittsburgh/VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System. 
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  2. Blocked Tear Duct. American Academy of Ophthalmology. https://www.aao.org/eye-health/diseases/what-is-blocked-tear-duct
  3. Discharge From Eye. American Academy of Ophthalmology. https://www.aao.org/eye-health/symptoms/discharge
  4. Dry Eye. American Academy of Ophthalmology. https://www.aao.org/eye-health/diseases/what-is-dry-eye
  5. How to Treat Eye Discharge. UPMC HealthBeat.
  6. How to Treat Eye Discharge. UPMC HealthBeat. https://www.upmc.com/2016/01/how-to-treat-eye-discharge/
  7. Pink Eye (Conjunctivitis). American Academy of Ophthalmology. https://www.aao.org/eye-health/diseases/pink-eye-conjunctivitis
  8. Stye and Chalazia. American Academy of Ophthalmology. https://www.aao.org/eye-health/diseases/what-are-chalazia-styes
  9. What Is Blepharitis? American Academy of Ophthalmology. https://www.aao.org/eye-health/diseases/what-is-blepharitis
  10. What Is Sleep Crust? American Academy of Ophthalmology. https://www.aao.org/eye-health/diseases/what-is-sleep-crust
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Last Review Date: 2021 Jan 25
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