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The fluid coming out of the eyes is a body fluid, though many people may not think so. The crusty material you find in the corner of your eyes after sleep is called eye gunk, eye booger, or sleep crust. It is mainly a residue from the eye’s normal protective process.
Eye gunk can be indicative of several things including some that may need medical attention.
In ancient Indian and Chinese texts, eye fluids and eye function are considered a reflection of liver health. (1) A sloppy liver is believed to lead to blurred vision!
Other indications may be obtained by studying your eye gunk.
How Does Eye Gunk Form?
The eye makes mucus (or rheum) throughout the day and at night. The production of mucus not only maintains your eye health but also protects them from the environment. (2)
The act of blinking causes the rheum to flush out the oil and waste from the eye. At night during sleep when the eyelids are closed, there is no blinking; hence, eye discharge collects in the corner of your eye as a crust.
A little bit of crust collecting is normal. However, sometimes the quantity and quality of this crust can be signaling some issues with your eye health. Read on to know more about these alarming signs.
Eye Gunk Characteristics That Reveal Something About Your Health
Here’s what eye gunk can reveal about your health.
1. Crusty eyes
When you feel extra crust or irritation in your eyes, you might have blepharitis, which is an inflammation of the eyelid, resulting in crust formation along the lid. (3) Another reason causing crusty eyes or eye irritation is seasonal allergy or dry eye.
Do not rub your eye. Instead, administer a warm compress, and wash the eyelid with a commercial lid scrub or baby shampoo diluted with water.
Usually, the condition improves without medication. However, seek medical advice if this persists to rule out any eye infection or a sinus infection.
2. Colored eye discharge
A thick yellow, white, or green discharge from the eye usually indicates a bacterial or viral infection, called conjunctivitis. (4) This condition also causes crusty eyes with redness and matting of the eyelids with a stringy discharge.
Conjunctivitis also accompanies a cold, in which case it should clear up as the body recovers from the cold. Over the counter, antihistamines help. In case you are allergic to something such as pollen, it is best to avoid the allergen.
A stye, which is due to an infected eyelash follicle, can also cause yellow pus and discomfort.
3. Thick discharge
A thick eye discharge that causes blurring of vision could be cause for alarm. This condition may be due to corneal ulcers or infections of the cornea. Consult your doctor without delay.
Thick and sticky discharge can also be a result of a blockage in the tear duct, which can prevent your tears from draining normally. This condition is called dacryocystitis, an infection in the lacrimal sac. (5) Very often, this infection is secondary to chronic nasal congestion and inflammation (rhinitis).
4. Excessive tearing and gunk formation
Allergies and cold weather can result in excessive tearing.
Sometimes, excessive production of tears can be an indication of dry eyes. Dry eyes can be the result of too much usage of computers, leading to computer vision syndrome (CVS). (6) This can be treated by using an antiglare cover and eye drops, which are available over the counter.
However, excessive gunk is a cause for alarm and necessitates medical attention.
5. Corneal ulcer
Corneal ulcer is an abscess-like infection of the cornea that can result in eye discharge with a thick consistency that impairs vision. (7) Various factors may cause corneal ulcer, but the main reason is bacterial infection.
Bacterial infection is most commonly observed in the overnight wearing of contact lenses, overwearing of contact lenses, inadequate cleaning of contact lenses, rinsing the contact lenses in tap water, contamination, trauma, foreign body injury, chemical injury, mechanical and thermal injuries, insect fall, previous ocular and eyelid surgery, and other bacterial infections. (8)
When to See a Doctor
The risk of infection increases with the use of contact lenses. If your eyes tear up or there is discharge and pain while wearing contact lenses, it is a sure indication of an infection of the lens.
Such conditions require immediate medical attention. Consult your ophthalmologist without delay.
Experts advise to consult a doctor if you have eye gunk along with these signs and symptoms:
- Redness or swelling of the eye
- Blurry vision
- Pain in the eye
- Trouble opening the eye because the lids are sticking together
- Photophobia (sensitivity to light)
Most-Asked Questions About Eye Gunk
What causes too much eye gunk?
A little bit of eye gunk in the morning when you wake up is normal. But too much or excessive watering is usually an indication of an eye infection and requires medical attention.
What does the eye gunk normally contain?
Eye gunk is normally made up of a combination of mucus, oil, skin cells, and other debris that collects at the corner of your eye when you are asleep. It may be moist, dry, oily, or crusty depending upon its moisture content.
The best way to keep your eyes clean is by washing them regularly with clean water. Alternatively, you can place a washcloth or cotton pad soaked in warm water over your eyelids. Gently rub the closed eyes to clean out the gunk if needed.
Under all circumstances, avoid rubbing your eyes with your bare hands since this can result in an eye infection. Also, remember the golden rule of removing makeup at night before bed.
We sometimes casually buy products from chemists or online. However, speaking with an eye doctor before purchasing is suggested to ensure the product is safe to use.