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Eye Discharge: What is it?

Whether as a young child or grown adult, everyone at some point in their life has experienced waking up to mucus or a gritty substance in the outer corners of their eyes. Although it has its many nicknames such as eye gunk, the sleepies, or even eye boogers, the clinical term for this occurrence is simply eye discharge or rheum.

What exactly is eye discharge?

Eye discharge is a perfectly normal way in which the eye naturally cleans out debris, such as skin cells and dirt, which get trapped on the outer membrane of the eye throughout the day. While you are awake, the eye produces a small constant layer of tears, and when you blink, the unwanted material is wiped away from the surface of your eye.

However, once you go to sleep, you're eyes no longer perform the process of blinking. Debris being pushed to the outer corners of your eye during the day, along with the film of tears, are now able to settle and harden as you sleep. As a result, one can awake to a buildup of a crusty substance appearing in the lash line or the corners of your eyes.

Is eye discharge cause for concern?

For the most part, eye discharge is an entirely natural process for which your eyes clean themselves. However, if you notice a combination of the following symptoms below, you may be experiencing an eye infection or possibly an even a serious eye disease:

  • Discharge in the eye that is yellow or green
  • Abnormally large amounts of eye discharge
  • A painful sensation in one or both eyes
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Fuzzy vision

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, please schedule an eye exam with an eye doctor as soon as possible.