Eye discharge

Causes, treatments and herbal remedies

Kate Harris

Eye Health Advisor
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An introduction to eye discharge

Eye discharge has a number of names; sleep, rheum, eye gunk, eye goo, or, for those across the pond, eye boogers.  This discharge is a combination of mucus, oil, dead skin and other debris such as dust and dirt. This discharge is usually most noticeable in the morning, as during sleep it tends to collect in the corner of the eye.

It has a protective function – it collects waste products and debris and removes them, a bit like the mucus in your nose and lungs.

Sometimes this discharge can indicate a problem with the eye, particularly if the amount produced increases, changes to a green or yellow colour or becomes very sticky.

What are the causes of eye discharge?

Eye discharge is naturally occurring, and a necessary part of the body’s system for maintaining good eye health. Sometimes, however, it can indicate an eye problem such as:

  • Conjunctivitis – depending on the type of conjunctivitis, discharge may either be clear and watery (viral and allergic conjunctivitis) or thick with a yellow or green tinge (bacterial conjunctivitis)
  • Blepharitis – this condition is caused by an inflammation of the edges of the eyelids and the eyelash follicles. Discharge resulting from this tends to be crusty as it collects and dries along the lash-line
  • Contact lenses– you may notice an increase in discharge if you wear contact lenses. This could indicate an eye infection, but could also just be caused by the lens irritating the eye.
  • Dry eyes – if your eyes become dry for any reason, they may overcompensate by producing excessive discharge
  • Allergies such as hayfever can sometimes cause discharge
  • Dacryocystitis – this is caused when a tear sac in your eye becomes infected and inflamed as the result of a blocked tear duct. It can cause sticky discharge as well as pain, watering eyes and blurred vision.
  • Sometimes illnesses like the common cold or flu can cause an increase in discharge
  • Eye injury – your eye can release discharge as a protective mechanism against injury, for example if a foreign body is stuck in the eye. If you notice blood or pus in your eye after an eye injury it is important to consult your GP or eye specialist as soon as possible.

What can I do?

There are a number of things you can do from home to reduce or manage eye discharge without the need for medical treatment:

  • If discharge is crusty or sticky, soak a flannel in warm water and place over the eyes. This will soften and loosen the discharge, making it easier to wipe away.
  • Resist the temptation to remove discharge with your finger, as this is likely to spread or cause infection
  • Wash your hands regularly, particularly if you come into contact with your own or somebody else’s eye discharge
  • If you experience discharge while wearing contacts, take them out and clean them thoroughly before putting them back in. If your discharge is being caused by an infection, leave the lenses out and replace them with a new pair once the infection has been cleared
  • Remove your makeup before bed – your natural discharge may struggle to prevent bacteria-filled makeup from entering the eye, so it is good practise to remove this before going to sleep
  • If you know what you are allergic to, try to make sure you come into contact with this allergen as little as possible
  • If your eye discharge is caused by conjunctivitis, go to our conjunctivitis treatment page for a comprehensive list of self-help treatments and herbal remedies.

Are there any herbal remedies that might help?

Euphrasia is a herb that has been used to treat eye problems since the 14th century. It is also known as Eyebright because of its traditional uses in eye health.

We recommend Euphrasia in eye drop form, such as A.Vogel’s Eye Drops, which will help to clean out any unwanted discharge, dirt and bacteria, and will also promote good eye health. It is especially useful for tired, dry, irritated eyes, as well as conditions such as conjunctivitisand blepharitis, so if one of these is the cause of your eye discharge then Euphrasia should help.

You may also want to consider our Vision Complex, containing, among other things, lutein and zinc which are essential for promoting good eye health and vision.

What is the treatment for eye discharge?

Treatment for eye discharge depends on what is causing the discharge.

For example, eye discharge caused by bacterial conjunctivitis may be treated with antibiotics if your immune system is struggling to fight the infection, or if eye discharge is caused by allergies then antihistamines may help.

If you are concerned about a change in your eye discharge which does not improve after a week, you should consult your GP as they will be able to advise you on whether treatment is needed, and which is suitable.

Vision Complex – for healthy eyes

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Contains tagetes and blackcurrant extracts, rich in lutein, beta-carotene & zeaxanthin.
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