Why Are My Eyes Goopy?

Common Causes of Eye Discharge

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Eye mucus is normal and essential to good eye health. It's produced in the eye conjunctiva, a clear tissue that protects the eyeball and eyelids, along with oil from the meibomian glands along the eyelash edge.

Sleep crust is fairly normal too, especially in small children. People produce a goopy eye discharge that then builds up in the corners of the eyes during sleep. However, some types of eye goop can be a sign of a health condition, such as a blocked tear duct or infection.

This article covers some of the most common causes of eye discharge and what they look like. It also discusses other related symptoms, as well as the common ways to treat these conditions.

Executive rubbing eyes, close-up
Charles Thatcher / Getty Images

Causes of Eye Discharge

There are several reasons why you may have goopy eyes. While it is normal to have a little "gunk" or eye discharge in the morning, some causes of eye discharge are more serious and may require medical attention.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

Many causes of a goopy eye discharge can be treated at home and resolve in a few days. However, see a healthcare provider right away if you have severe eye pain or redness, any vision changes or blindness, a traumatic injury to the eye that causes symptoms, or symptoms that don't change or keep getting worse.

Conjunctivitis

Conjunctivitis (also called pink eye) results in goopy eyes that are also often very red or bloodshot. Pink eye can also cause the eyes to burn or feel itchy.

Infection can be caused by bacterial or viral agents. Depending on the germ that has caused this infection, eye discharge may be white, yellow, or even green in coloration.

Conjunctivitis can occur in both children and adults. Viral conjunctivitis is often accompanied by common cold symptoms, or may be related to herpes simplex infections.

While many cases of pink eye are mild and go away on their own, some require the intervention of a healthcare professional.

At home, treatment for pink eye may include a warm compress to reduce redness and swelling. Even if symptoms are mild, pink eye can be very contagious. Avoid touching your eyes and practice frequent hand washing to avoid spreading the infection to others.

Antibiotic eyedrops may be an option if your symptoms don't clear up in a few days. Your healthcare provider also may need to treat an underlying cause of the conjunctivitis.

See a healthcare provider, too, if you are already being treated with an antibiotic for bacterial pink eye and you continue to have goopy eyes or any of the above symptoms.

Allergies

Eye allergies can also be called allergic conjunctivitis and can cause a clear watery or whitish colored eye discharge. Additional symptoms include:

  • Eye redness
  • Itchy eyes
  • Burning eyes
  • Other symptoms consistent with hay fever or pollen allergies

In many cases, treatment with over-the-counter (OTC) antihistamines, nasal sprays, eye drops, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) will clear up symptoms. Prescription eyedrops, in some cases along with a corticosteroid, also may be used.

Blocked Tear Ducts

Goopy eyes in babies and small children are very common, and blocked tear ducts most commonly occur in kids in these age groups. Their tear ducts are small and are, therefore, more prone to blockage. This can occur because the duct is blocked by a thin piece of tissue.

Infants may also have closed or undeveloped corners of the eyes that prevent tears from draining into the nasolacrimal ducts properly.

This typically resolves as a baby grows and the ducts are able to open up more.

Blocked tear ducts can occur in adults and in older children when they become blocked by infectious debris or when they are damaged from a facial injury or trauma.

A condition called dacrocystitis is an infection of the eye drainage system which can be accompanied by redness and swelling around the eyes or nose. In extreme cases, fever and pain may also occur. Sometimes a procedure called a dacrocystorhinostomy is needed to unblock the tear duct drainage system.

Generally, treatment will depend on the cause. Antibiotics may be used when the cause is an infection, or a dilation procedure may be performed to open up a blocked tear duct.

A blocked tear duct may cause drainage in only one eye or both eyes. A tear duct may also be fully or only partially blocked. Drainage may get worse if you also have a sinus infection or are congested.

Stye

A stye is an inflamed gland on the edge of your eyelid which arises from an infected eyelash follicle. This fairly common condition usually causes a bump on the edge of your eyelid, which may become very tender and sore.

Styes are caused by bacterial infection that lead to excessive tear production of the eye. Some underlying health conditions, including diabetes, may make their development more common.

Most styes can be treated at home by keeping the affected area clean and makeup-free. Warm compresses and light massage can help to relieve symptoms. If necessary, both OTC and prescription medications are available to treat a more stubborn stye.

Eye Cellulitis

Eye cellulitis, also called orbital cellulitis, is a more severe infection of the tissues that surround the eye.

In some cases, a stye may progress to cellulitis, but they also may be related to bacterial infections including Staphylococcus aureus and Streptococcus pneumoniae. This is a more serious cause of eye discharge that can lead to permanent eye damage.

Treatment will depend on the cause, including cases where trauma to the eye leads to cellulitis and its symptoms. These symptoms include:

  • Pain, swelling, and red-purple color around the eye, brow, and cheek
  • Bulging of the eye
  • Blurry vision, and other changes including blindness
  • Fever

Many people with orbital cellulitis are treated in the hospital, with intravenous (IV) antibiotics and surgery. Nasal congestion, often associated with orbital cellulitis, also may be treated.

Cellulitis and Eye Cancer

Cancers of the eye, in some cases, may be associated with or mistaken for orbital cellulitis. One review found nearly half of people with necrotic uveal melanoma also had cellulitis along with pain, vision loss, and other symptoms. Sebaceous cell carcinoma, which arises from meibomian glands, also may present as cellulitis.

Foreign Objects

It's common for small foreign objects, such as dust or sand, to affect the eye. Typically, these objects can be removed fairly easily by blinking or carefully flushing out the eye.

When a goopy discharge is one of the symptoms, though, it's important to see a healthcare provider. This may mean that the object is still trapped and needs to be removed with a medical procedure, or it may indicate an infection that requires treatment.

Dry Eye Disease

Dry eye disease (keratoconjunctivitis sicca) occurs when the body doesn't produce enough tears. Reasons for the condition include normal aging, exposure to sun and wind, and some medications and underlying conditions, like lupus.

Apart from dry eyes, symptoms include:

  • Sense of something stuck in the eye
  • Burning sensation in the eyes
  • Notably bloodshot eyes

Artifical tears and prescription medications may be used to treat dry eye disease. Lifestyle changes are important, and include drinking enough water, wearing sunglasses when outdoors, and avoiding smoke and other environmental irritants.

Summary

Small amounts of eye discharge are normal, and most people have clear, white, or yellowish mucus that appears in the corner of their eye when they wake up. This mucus is the sign of a healthy eye.

But when the mucus changes color or texture, or when it becomes an excessive discharge, it may be the sign of a serious infection or eye condition. While there are home remedies to help clear up goopy eye symptoms in just a few days, these situations require a healthcare provider's assessment.

Fortunately, many of these eye conditions are easily treated in children and adults alike. In rare cases, such as eye cellulitis, cancer, or even a blocked tear duct, more intervention will be needed.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is having eye discharge every day normal?

    Yes, as long as the gunk is clear or light yellow (even if it's crusty). Contact a healthcare provider if the eye discharge is green or dark yellow, is especially thick, or is accompanied by pain or redness—all signs of infection.

  • What do I do if my infant has goopy eyes?

    A small amount of discharge in the corner of your infant's eyes is normal. It may be wet or crusty, clear or slightly yellow. You can simply wipe it away. However, if there is yellow or green discharge in the eye, dried pus on the eyelids or eyelashes, or if the eyelids are puffy, red, or swollen, see a healthcare provider.

  • Does entropion cause goopy eye symptoms?

    Entropion, which causes your lower eyelid to turn in, is associated more with excessive tear production, redness, and irritation from the lid rubbing on the eye. It's typically age-related. Surgery is performed to correct the eyelid and improve symptoms.

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13 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.
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