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Why do people get eye discharge?

Eye discharge is also known as crusty eyes, sleep in the eyes or pink eye. However, a variety of conditions can cause it.

1. ‘Sleep in the eyes’

This is where overnight there is a little bit of tearing, and in the morning there are little crystals of sleepy dust at the corner of the eye. If you pick away that sleepy dust with a fingernail or cotton bud, it can irritate the small, fleshy area at the corner of the eye called the caruncle, and you may get a mucus discharge.

2. Blepharitis

If you have blepharitis, you can get crusty eyelid margins from deposits of dead skin cells and meibum oil. These form like a cake mixture in blob-like deposits along the eyelid margin, and flaky deposits around the lash roots, which are known as crusts or collarettes. Ophthalmologists often associate crusty eyes with red-rimmed eyelids, with blepharitis and meibomian gland dysfunction.

3. Pink eye or conjunctivitis can cause eye discharge

The eye discharge or the pink eye can either be clear or watering if it is a virus, or thick and opaque if it is a bacterial infection. However, there are other causes of pink eye than infective conjunctivitis, and these include infective conjunctivitis from bacterial viruses. This category includes rarer viruses such as herpes simplex keratitis and fungi such as acanthamoeba keratitis, which can be picked up from contact lens solutions, tap water or swimming while wearing contact lenses. It is sight-threatening and can destroy and the eye. The following allergens can cause pink eye:

  • Pollen
  • Dander
  • Dust
  • Irritants
  • Chemicals
  • Eye make-up
  • Contact lens solutions
  • Eye drops

4. Stye and chalazion

Stye and chalazion are really extensions of blepharitis and meibomian gland dysfunction, where the crusty eyelids have got worse, and the meibomian gland or mucus gland is blocked, causing acute red swelling and discharge.

5. Corneal ulcer

Eye discharge can be an indication of an infected corneal ulcer. If this is caused by contact lens pseudomonas aeruginosa, this is a medical emergency as all sight and function of the eye can the lost within 48 hours if left untreated.

6. Dacryocystitis

Further blockage of your tear duct mucus can accumulate in a lacrimal sac and wash back over the eye, giving a sticky discharge. This discharge is usually thick and opaque,  or thinner and mucusy, and the treatment is to treat the underlying tear duct obstruction.
There are many causes of people getting eye discharge. The most common is due to sleep in the eyes in the morning, called sleepy dust, then blepharitis and meibomian gland dysfunction and conjunctivitis. Moderately common causes are exacerbation of blepharitis and meibomian gland dysfunction, resulting in a stye or chalazion. Rare but severe causes are a corneal ulcer and dacryocystitis.
If you have eye discharge, you will need to establish what the cause is. You should see an urgent eye care ophthalmologist, who will be able to take your history and examine your eyes to exclude the more serious causes of eye discharge, and to treat whatever is causing it. At Clinica London, we have ophthalmologists present every day who are skilled in general ophthalmology and management of eye discharge. They can see you at short notice, often within hours, and can provide you with the answers that you require to resolve your eye discharge.


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