It’s common to have crusty gunk in the corners of your eyes after waking up in the morning.
The eyes make mucus, technically known as rheum, throughout the day and night to help flush out waste. While you sleep, rheum as well as natural oil, old skin cells and other debris build up in the corners of your eyes, which leads to the formation of a crusty discharge. This is commonly called eye gunk, eye goop or eye boogers. Fun stuff, right?
Well, a little clear discharge in the inner corners of your eyes when you wake up is normal. All you need to do is wash your eyes thoroughly to get rid of it.
But if the eye gunk has changed in color, consistency or volume, it could indicate some kind of health problem.
Here are some of the things that your eye gunk says about health.
1. Extra Crusty Gunk & Blepharitis
If you’re waking up with gunk that feels extra crusty or thicker than usual, you might be suffering from an eye infection. In fact, a thick crusting along the lid line could be a sign of blepharitis, an inflammation of the eyelid.
Blepharitis is a condition in which the hair follicles of the eyelashes become clogged or irritated due to an infection, which in turn triggers inflammation.
In cases of blepharitis, apart from discharge or crustiness, your lashes might be matted and you may have trouble opening your eyes in the morning because of it.
According to the American Optometric Association, applying warm compresses can loosen the crusts (1). It is best to do this several times a day, and especially first thing in the morning.
At the same time, maintain good eyelid hygiene to help reduce the symptoms and fight the infection and inflammation.
2. Yellow or Green Gunk & Conjunctivitis
Yellow or green eye discharge that is stringy and thick enough to make your eyes feel like they’re glued shut can indicate an infection like conjunctivitis, commonly known as pink eye.
According to the National Eye Institute, about 3 million cases of pink eye occur in the United States each year (2). This type of infection is irritating and uncomfortable, with symptoms like redness, itching, inflammation, tearing, and sensations of a foreign body or burning in the eyes. The condition can be caused by bacteria, a virus, or allergies.
Applying cold compresses on the closed eyelids can help ease the itching and swelling caused by pink eye. You can also try applying warm compresses to prevent the discharge from drying out and sticking to your eyelashes.
As conjunctivitis is contagious, it is recommended to stay home for a few days until the condition clears up.
3. Thick Yellow Crust & Styes
Styes occur when bacteria get into the oil glands in the eyelids, which causes round, red bumps to form close to your eyelashes. It can cause a thick, yellow crust around the eyelid and also make your eyelid feel sore.
A stye can increase sensitivity to light and make your eye watery or feel scratchy. Another common symptom is a feeling that there’s some foreign particle in your eye.
A warm compress is the most effective way to treat a stye. It helps thin the pus and oil, so the stye can drain naturally.
Avoid using makeup and wearing contact lenses if you have a stye. Also, experts recommend not bursting a stye as it can spread the infection (3). Eye styes usually heal within 1 or 2 weeks.