What causes eye discharge and how to treat it?

Symptom Database

Eye discharge, also known as “rheum,” is a common condition that affects people of all ages. It refers to the fluid that is produced by the eyes and can be found in the corners or on the eyelids. While eye discharge is usually harmless, it can sometimes be a sign of an underlying issue. In this article, we will explore the causes of eye discharge, the different types of discharge, and how to treat and prevent it.

Causes of Eye Discharge

Eye discharge can be caused by various factors, including:

  • Allergies: Allergic reactions to pollen, dust, or pet dander can lead to excessive eye discharge.
  • Conjunctivitis: Also known as pink eye, conjunctivitis is an inflammation of the conjunctiva, the thin membrane that covers the white part of the eye. It can cause redness, itching, and discharge.
  • Dry eyes: Insufficient tear production can result in dry eyes, leading to eye discharge.
  • Eye infections: Bacterial or viral infections can cause eye discharge, often accompanied by redness and discomfort.
  • Blocked tear ducts: When the tear ducts are obstructed, tears cannot drain properly, resulting in eye discharge.

Treatment for Eye Discharge

The treatment for eye discharge depends on the underlying cause. Here are some common remedies:

1. Warm Compress

Applying a warm compress to the affected eye can help loosen any crust or debris and promote drainage. Soak a clean cloth in warm water, wring out the excess, and gently place it over the closed eye for a few minutes. Repeat this several times a day.

2. Eye Drops

Over-the-counter eye drops can provide relief from dry eyes and help reduce eye discharge. Look for artificial tears or lubricating eye drops that are preservative-free. Follow the instructions on the packaging for proper usage.

3. Antibiotic Ointment

If the eye discharge is caused by an infection, your doctor may prescribe antibiotic ointment or eye drops to eliminate the bacteria or virus. It is important to follow the prescribed dosage and complete the full course of treatment.

4. Cleaning the Eyes

Gently cleaning the eyes with a clean, damp cloth can help remove any discharge and prevent it from accumulating. Be sure to use a separate cloth for each eye to avoid spreading any infection.

Eye Discharge in Infants

Eye discharge is common in infants and can be caused by several factors:

  • Blocked tear ducts: Many infants are born with tear ducts that are not fully developed, leading to tear duct blockage and discharge.
  • Conjunctivitis: Newborns can contract conjunctivitis during delivery if the mother has a bacterial infection.
  • Environmental irritants: Dust, pet dander, or other allergens can cause eye discharge in infants.

If your baby has eye discharge, gently clean their eyes with a clean, damp cloth. If the discharge persists or is accompanied by redness or swelling, consult a pediatrician for further evaluation and treatment.

Preventing Eye Discharge

While it may not always be possible to prevent eye discharge, there are steps you can take to reduce the likelihood of experiencing it:

  • Avoid touching or rubbing your eyes, as this can introduce bacteria and irritate the eyes.
  • Practice good hygiene, such as washing your hands regularly and avoiding sharing towels or cosmetics.
  • Remove eye makeup before going to bed to prevent debris from accumulating in the eyes.
  • Protect your eyes from irritants by wearing goggles or sunglasses in dusty or windy environments.
  • Stay hydrated to ensure proper tear production and prevent dry eyes.

Types of Eye Discharge

Eye discharge can vary in consistency and color, providing clues about its underlying cause:

  • Clear eye discharge: Clear discharge is often a sign of allergies or dry eyes.
  • Sticky eye discharge: Thick, sticky discharge can indicate an infection, such as conjunctivitis or a blocked tear duct.
  • Yellow or green eye discharge: These colors may indicate a bacterial infection.
  • Bloody eye discharge: While rare, bloody discharge may be a sign of a more serious condition and should be evaluated by a healthcare professional.

If you notice any changes in the color, consistency, or amount of eye discharge, or if you experience pain or vision changes, it is important to seek medical attention for a proper diagnosis and appropriate treatment.

In conclusion, eye discharge can be caused by various factors, including allergies, infections, and dry eyes. Treatment options range from warm compresses and eye drops to antibiotic ointments, depending on the underlying cause. By practicing good hygiene and taking preventive measures, you can reduce the risk of eye discharge. If you or your child experience persistent or concerning symptoms, consult a healthcare professional for further evaluation and guidance.

Haroon Rashid, MD
Rate author
Urgent Care Center of Arlington, VA
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