Identifying Types of Eye Mucus

Goop, eye boogers, eye gunk—whatever you call it, eye mucus is a concern for many people. Eye mucus in the corners of your eyes tends to build up during sleep, but it can also build up during waking hours, especially if you have a condition affecting your eye.

Sometimes you can remove it by rubbing your finger in the corner of your eye. Other times, your eyelids may seem glued shut by the gunk stuck to your lashes.

This article discusses the different types of eye mucus discharge and conditions that could cause each type. It also covers when you should contact your doctor and what treatments you may be given based on your diagnosis.

types of eye mucus

Verywell / Emily Roberts

Watery Mucus

Watery tears mixed with a small amount of mucus can be caused by a virus. Viral conjunctivitis can cause a variety of symptoms such as eyelid swelling, blurred vision, redness, and a feeling that something is stuck in your eye.

This type of conjunctivitis referred to as "pink eye" can be highly contagious. Viral conjunctivitis can be a symptom of upper respiratory viral illnesses.

Be vigilant about hand washing to avoid spreading the infection to your other eye or to other people. Don't share towels with other people, and wash and towels, sheets, or clothes that may have come into contact with your hands or face.

The infection will take its course, usually resolving on its own. In the meantime, your doctor might recommend that you take over-the-counter pain medication to ease the discomfort.

A general strategy for preventing pink eye is to always avoid sharing cosmetics or anything else that is applied to the eye.

Conjunctivitis is an inflammation of the conjunctiva. The conjunctiva is a clear mucous membrane that lines the inside of the eyelid and covers the white part of the eye.

There are several types of conjunctivitis. It is important to have a doctor look closely at your eye so that you get the right treatment.

Thick Green or Gray Mucus

A thick green or gray mucus discharge could be something serious. It may mean that you have an eye infection caused by bacteria.

Bacterial conjunctivitis may cause your eyelid to be completely stuck shut when you wake in the morning. This type of eye infection is caused by pus-producing (pyogenic) bacteria.

If you wake up with the feeling of not being able to open your eyes, you could have a bacterial eye infection. Other symptoms include eye redness and irritation.

Conjunctivitis rarely causes long-term vision or eye damage, but it can make the eye extremely red.

Yellow Mucus

Yellow mucus along with a small lump or nodule on your eyelid can be caused by a stye. Eyelid glands sometimes get clogged and infected and leak mucus.

If you do have a stye, your eye may also feel bruised and sensitive to light. You may notice a reddish bump on your eyelid or you may develop a stye inside your eyelid (internal hordeolum). Pus will build up in the center of the stye, causing a yellowish spot that looks like a pimple. 

You might be tempted to squeeze the trapped mucus out like a pimple. This is not recommended, as it could cause the stye to get infected. If you see yellow mucus, see your doctor to find out the cause.

If it is a stye, your doctor might recommend that you try gently placing a warm compress on your eye for comfort.

White or Yellow Balls of Mucus

White or yellow mucus balls in watery tears is a common sign of dacryocystitis—that is, an infection in the tear drainage system, known as the nasolacrimal sac. With dacryocystitis, you may feel facial pain, or have redness and swelling between your nose and eyelid.

You may also notice discharge coming out of the puncta, a small drainage hole in the eyelid. This condition can become serious if not treated promptly with antibiotics, so make sure to see your doctor if you notice symptoms.

Thick, Crusty Mucus

Thick, crusty mucus on your eyelids and eyelashes may be due to blepharitis. Blepharitis is sometimes caused by bacteria found on your skin.

The bacteria may grow and infect the eyelids and eyelashes, causing redness and inflammation. The eyelids may also thicken and form dandruff-like scales on the lids and lashes.

Blepharitis is often treated by applying warm compresses followed by eyelid scrubs. A simple way to do an eyelid scrub is to close your eye and gently scrub your eyelid with a warm washcloth in a back-and-forth motion. You might want to try using baby shampoo, as it won't sting your eyes.

Stringy, White Mucus

Stringy, white mucus is a sign of allergic conjunctivitis, or eye allergies. As part of your body's allergic response, glands in your eye may produce material that sticks together, collecting inside of your eye or under the lower eyelid.

Your doctor might recommend using chilled, over-the-counter, artificial tears several times a day. Artificial tears lubricate your eye and help suppress the immune response that causes stringy eye mucus. If eye allergies become severe, your doctor may need to prescribe antihistamine eye drops or oral medications.

Small, Dry Particles of Mucus

If you often get small, dry particles of mucus in the corners of your eyes upon waking, you may have dry eyes or dry eye syndrome.

Human tears are mostly composed of water, mucus, and oil. When your tears have less water, mucus and oil stick together, dry out, and build up in the corners of your eyes in the morning.

There are many treatments for dry eye, including making sure you are drinking enough water, occasionally splashing your eyes with water throughout the day, avoiding powdery makeup, using artificial tears in your eyes, taking fish oil pills, and using a warm compress.

Summary

Gunk in your eyes can mean several different things. Most causes of watery eyes or waking up with gunk in your eyes aren't serious. They will likely go away on their own or get better with simple home treatments.

However, if you have thick, green mucus, a stye with yellow mucus, or yellow drainage coming from the eyelid, have a doctor check your eye. Also see a doctor if the mucus is persistent, bothersome, or affects your vision in any way.

A Word From Verywell

You may find it difficult to describe the gunk in your eyes to your eye doctor, but describing the consistency of your eye mucus is important. Mucus in and around the eyes can be caused by a number of eye problems, a few of which can be serious.

So if you start to notice eye mucus, take note of what it looks like. This will help your doctor find the cause and select a treatment to help you. 

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Does pink eye cause eye discharge?

    Yes, pink eye (conjunctivitis) can cause eye discharge to form. Viral conjunctivitis usually releases a watery discharge, while bacterial conjunctivitis can create a thick green or grey discharge. Viral conjunctivitis can cause eye irritation, redness, and in some cases may cause the eyes to be stuck together in the morning after waking up.

  • Why do I have crusty eyes in the morning?

    Waking up with crusty eyes in the morning is due to the mixture of mucus, skin cells, tears, and oils that dry up to form around the eyes. During daytime, our tears wash away these irritants when we blink. While we are asleep, this doesn't happen, and results in waking up with crusty eyes.

  • Does bacterial conjunctivitis need treatment?

    Bacterial conjunctivitis does not usually need treatment. In most cases it goes away by itself after one or two weeks, but there are prescription medications that can be ordered by a healthcare provider when symptoms are severe.

  • What causes white, stringy mucus from the eye?

    White, stringy mucus from the eye can be indicative of allergic conjunctivitis, or an eye allergy. It often causes the eyes to become itchy, red, and swollen. Treatment depends on what is triggering the allergic response; for instance, many people are affected by a seasonal allergic reaction to grass and pollen, so they take specific allergy medications to treat their symptoms.

  • What are the types of conjunctivitis?

    The different types of conjunctivitis include viral conjunctivitis, bacterial conjunctivitis, allergic conjunctivitis, and conjunctivitis due to eye irritants. The name of each is derived from its cause; for example, allergic conjunctivitis can occur as a result of an allergic reaction.

4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Azari AA, Barney NP. Conjunctivitis: a systematic review of diagnosis and treatment. JAMA. 2013 Oct;310(16):1721-1729. doi:10.1001/jama.2013.280318

  2. Lindsley K, Matsumura S, Hatef E, Akpek EK. Interventions for chronic blepharitis. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2012 May;5(1):CD005556. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD005556.pub2

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Conjunctivitis (Pink Eye): Symptoms.

  4. University of Utah Health. Is That Morning "Eye Gunk" Normal?

By Troy Bedinghaus, OD
Troy L. Bedinghaus, OD, board-certified optometric physician, owns Lakewood Family Eye Care in Florida. He is an active member of the American Optometric Association.