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What is eye discharge: why does it develop around the eye?

What is eye discharge: why does it develop around the eye?

Eye discharge is something we all have experienced but still unaware of why it occurs. How many times have you seen a sticky white discharge accumulate in the eye corner? It gets rid of by proper washing of the face. Most of the time, eye discharge is not a matter of concern though it can sometimes lead to the warning of significant eye problems.

Hence you must not ignore if you see a change in eye discharge. If discharge in the eye occurs quite often and in large amounts then seek medical help. Read on to find out what exactly is eye discharge and its causes and treatment. Though it might look like a harmless cause, it can cause concern if you are not aware of its emergence.

What is eye discharge?

Eye discharge, also known as sleep in your eyes, is often a condition of irritation. The accumulated eye discharge is composed of mucus, skin cells, oil and dirt from the eye itself. Generally, when you wake up, you will notice the eye discharge accumulated in the corner of your eyes. The state of the eye discharge is mostly sticky, it can be wet, dry and crusty if there is evaporation in the liquid.

The main reason behind the occurrence of eye discharge that is also known as rheum has protective function towards our eyes. Commonly, eye discharge is responsible for removing dirt and dust from the surface of the eye. Your eyes need constant cleaning as it produces mucus all day long and acts as a coat and lubricates the surface. However, the thin film of tears washes away the accumulated rheum once it starts to harden.

When you are asleep, eye discharge gets collected at the corner of the eye or along the lash line and eventually turns into crust. Hence it is called by the term "sleep" in your eyes. Having rheum in your eyes is considered normal most of the time as it is a natural process of removing dirt and dust from the eyes. However, an eye discharge can be of different kinds and that are the ones which need an eye examination. If you experience getting a large amount of eye discharge in green or yellow colour or experience blurry vision, eye pain or light sensitivity then it is a crucial cause of eye infection. You must seek immediate help from your ophthalmologist.

Where does the mucus in the eye come from?

Before shifting towards the cause and treatment, ever wonder where does the mucus come from in the first place? The eye discharge is predominantly made up of watery mucus and meibum (oily substance). The meibum is a lipid-rich substance that protects the eye from hazardous environmental factors which stick to it hence is unable to reach inside. The tissue called conjunctiva (also called mucin) is responsible for mucus production, and the meibomian gland produces meibum.

What are the causes for eye discharge?

Eye discharge if present adequately is entirely harmless. However, if there is a noticeable change in the quality and colour of the discharge, you must check its cause. Eye discharge is also a symptom of many eye-related issues hence you must reach for medical support.

Conjunctivitis (Pink Eye)

Eye discharge is one of the massive symptoms of conjunctivitis. Pink eye or conjunctivitis is an eye infection of the transparent membrane that covers the white of the eye (Sclera) and the winter inner surface of the eyelids. The blood vessels in the conjunctiva tissue get inflamed hence it appears visibly red.

Conjunctivitis eye discharges are present in different colours of mucus-like white, yellow or green depending on their type. The eye discharge of conjunctivitis forms into a crust and lies along the lash line when you are asleep. In most cases, eye discharge accumulation around the lash line can be so severe that your eyes find it extremely hard to open up.

Eye discharge depending on conjunctivitis and its type

Viral Conjunctivitis - The cause of viral conjunctivitis is a virus and is highly contagious among all. In viral conjunctivitis, eye discharges are mostly see-through and watery. It can also discharge slight white or yellow coloured mucus.

Bacterial Conjunctivitis - Bacteria causes bacterial conjunctivitis and often is a sight-threatening condition. Eye discharge due to bacterial conjunctivitis is dense and pungent. You will notice yellow, grey, or green mucus in this eye condition.

Allergic Conjunctivitis - Allergens like pollen, dust and others cause allergic conjunctivitis. Pollutants like makeup products, eye drops, contact lens, etc, also lead to it. In allergic conjunctivitis, the eye discharge is in watery form and affects both eyes.


It is a painful eye infection that affects the cornea. It is mostly caused by infection from either virus, bacteria, parasite or fungi though it is not critically contagious. Apart from redness, eye pain, Keratitis symptoms involve excessive tears and other types of eye discharge.

Blocked Tear Duct/Dacryocystitis

In dacryocystitis, the tear duct gets blocked that leads to severe pain and discomfort. Due to blockage in the tear duct, the lacrimal sac present in the tear drainage system that leads to the nose gets severely infected. It leads to the formation of a swollen bump under the inner eyelid. It creates intense pain, redness in the eye, including watery eyes and sticky eye discharge.

Blepharitis -

It is a chronic eyelid disorder that is caused by inflammation in the eyelash hair follicles or inadequate oil production via the meibomian gland. It produces an abnormal amount of mucus and green-yellow pus from the eye.

Stye -

Stye causes an occurrence of a pimple shaped body on the eyelid that is often clogged by external dirt and dust. One of the common signs and symptoms of stye involves redness in the eye, swollen eyelids, uncomfortable eye movement. It also causes yellow pus, crusting on the eye that can infect other parts of the body.

Corneal Ulcer -

It is a severe eye condition that can cause possible threat in vision. Corneal Ulcer is a swollen corneal infection caused by a violent act or untreated eye infection. It is a pretty harsh eye condition that can develop into a progressive vision loss if not provided with immediate care. Signs and symptoms of corneal ulcer involve eye pain, redness, swollen eyelids, and thick eye discharge.

Contact Lenses-

Wearing contact lenses can cause an abnormal increase in eye discharge or sleep in the eye. Use of contact lenses brings quite a lot of infection associated with it like contact lens-related infection, discomfort, dry eyes and burning sensation, and itchiness. Eye discharge is also a common symptom of problems faced by contact lenses.

What is the treatment for eye discharge?

Treatment for eye discharge does not always require it because it is natural and harmless mostly. However, if you notice a visible change in colour of the mucus, consistency and volume then you must consult your ophthalmologist. After examining the causes for eye discharge, the doctor will recommend the following treatment:

Steps on how to treat eye discharge:
  • Lubricating Eye drop
  • Steroid eye drops
  • Antibiotics
  • Warm compression on the eyes

Tips on how to stop eye discharge from happening
  • Wash your hands constantly
  • Do not treat eye discharge by force, consult only an ophthalmologist
  • Avoid using excessive eye makeup like mascara, eyeliner and others
  • Never sleep with contact lens on
  • Use a cotton washcloth that is dipped in lukewarm water to wipe the corners
  • Treat dry eyes with eye drops

These tips and recommendations are only for the time with no severe condition. If you notice any considerable change, kindly consult your ophthalmologist or book an eye test.

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