The color and type of eye discharge can detect health conditions
When waking up, we may often see dirt or mucus in the corner of the eye. Medically, this is called rheum. Other terms are eye gunk, eye booger, eye pus, goopy eyes, or the common people call belek.
According to Jeff Pettey, MD, an ophthalmologist at Moran Eye Center, United States (US), rheum is a mixture of mucus, exfoliated skin cells, oil, and tears that are produced or expelled by the eyes during sleep. It is a natural part of healthy eye function.
Actually, during the daytime or while awake, the eyes also secrete mucus, but they are swept away by the tears when we blink, which makes them not collect at the corners of the eyes. Meanwhile, when we sleep, gravity and the absence of blinking make mucus accumulate in the corner of the eye.
This eye mucus is completely normal. However, a change in color, consistency, or amount of mucus can indicate the presence of certain eye diseases. Summarized from various sources, these are signs of a problem that can be seen from the color and type of eye discharge.
1. Clear eye discharge indicates normal condition
According to Dr. Abugo, MD, assistant professor of ophthalmology at Eastern Virginia Medical School, USA, clear mucus in the eye shows a normal response to minor irritants from the environment.
This condition is nothing to worry about, as it is a protective mechanism for the eye by trapping irritants and removing them from the surface of the eye.
2. White mucus usually shows signs of allergies and dry eyes
White rheum is usually associated with several eye disorders, such as allergies, dry eyes, or blepharitis, which is inflammation of the eyelids.
If the appearance of white mucus is associated with itching, redness, swelling of the eyelids, and a sensation like a foreign object in the eye, this is an indication of an allergy and immune system response to a foreign object, explained Dr. Abugo.
This allergic response can produce deposits in the eye or under the eyelids. To fix this, you can use eye drops prescribed by a doctor. This serves to hydrate and lubricate the eyes, and dilute the amount of antigen in the tears.
In some cases, blepharitis also causes white mucus in the eye. This condition is usually caused by meibomian gland dysfunction, Staphylococcus infection, or seborrheic inflammation. Warm compresses and eyelid scrubs usually do the trick.
3. Yellow or green mucus in the eye is associated with a bacterial or viral infection
According to Dr. Abugo, the yellow color in the rheum usually indicates the presence of bacterial and viral infections, while the green color is the hallmark of a bacterial infection. The bacteria that most often cause infections are Staphylococcus, Streptococcus, and Hemophilus influenza.
Poor hand hygiene, excessive use of contact lenses, or contaminated cosmetics are some of the sources that can cause infection. Dr. Penny Asbell, MD, director of the center for corneal services and refractical surgery at Mount Sinai’s Icahn School of Medicine in New York, USA, also explains that contact lenses increase the risk of infection.
4. Sticky eye mucus can result from dry eyes or malposition of the eyelids
Apart from bacterial infection, malposition of the eyelids or what is called ectropion can also cause sticky eye mucus. Dr. Abugo explained that, this condition can cause the eyelids to be in an abnormal position and cause inflammation, irritation, and a buildup of eye mucus.
Launching The Healthy, this sticky eye mucus can also be caused by dacryocystis, which is a condition where the tear ducts become blocked, preventing the tears from flowing. This is what then causes the eyes to discharge thick and sticky.
5. Dry and crusty eye discharge indicates dry eyes
According to Neha Shaik, MD, an ophthalmologist and assistant professor at Mount Sinai, USA, the most likely cause of crusty eyes after waking up is dryness.
As explained earlier, human tears consist of water, mucus, and oil components. When the amount of water is low or reduced, mucus and oil stick together and form a crust on the eyes.
Dr. Abugo also added that blepharitis can also cause the condition. Launching Verywell Health, blepharitis is sometimes caused by bacteria on our skin. These bacteria can infect the lids and lashes, causing redness and inflammation.
These are the recognizable signs of eye discharge or blotching, which may indicate a problem. Avoid rubbing your eyes with your hands after waking up as this can increase infection. Wiping your eyes with a washcloth with warm water is the best way to clean your eyes.