If you’ve ever woken up in the morning and felt like your eyelids were “sealed” shut with sticky goo, then you know what it’s like to have “eye boogers.” What are eye boogers, and why do some people develop them more than others?
The crusty little globs that develop in your eyes are actually a good thing — since they help trap particles and clean your eyes. While a small amount each day, especially in the morning, is nothing to worry about, lots of thick eye boogers can point to a bigger problem, especially if you also have itchy, red and swollen eyes.
How do you get rid of eye boogers? Below we’ll look at how to safely remove them, plus ways to decrease them from developing in the first place.
What Are Eye Boogers?
What are eye boogers called in the medical field? Technically, “eye boogers” (also called “sleepies” or eye discharge) is another name for rheum, which is a type of mucus that the eyes produce.
Rheum has the role of helping to protect and clean the eyes, since it traps things like dust, dirt, makeup and other compounds and chemicals found on your skin or in the air. When you have crusty or gooey discharge in your eyes, it’s actually a combination of mucus, oil, skin cells, salts and other debris.
Is it normal to have eye boogers every morning? Yes, in small amounts, but it really depends on the kind and how much someone has.
Many people wake up with sleepies in their eyes or crusty eyes because they aren’t blinking overnight while they’re asleep, and normally blinking helps remove mucus (rheum) from the eyes and keep the eyes clean. Mucus can accumulate overnight and dry out, often making its way to the tear ducts/corners of the eyes and eyelashes, which is where eye boogers are typically found.
Types of Eye Boogers (What’s Normal And What’s Not):
Rheum shouldn’t normally be light yellow, whiteish or clear. There shouldn’t be big globs of it in your eyes, but rather a small amount in the corner of your eyes and on your lashes.
Look out for eye boogers that are green, gray or dark yellow or that are accumulating into big globs (such as the type that almost “seal” your eye lashes shut). This may indicate that you have an eye infection, especially if you also have itchy, burning, red and/or irritated eyes.
If you have pink eye, you might also have very watery eyes, almost like you’re tearing all day.
Babies tend to have more eye mucus and eye boogers because their eye ducts can become blocked more easily. Look out for green or yellow mucus in your baby’s eyes, particularly the type that keeps developing all day.
Talk to your doctor about treatments for your baby’s eye mucus, such as keeping the eyes clean and applying warm compresses. Normally this problem will solve itself by the time the baby is about one year old, but still mention it to your doctor.
As explained above, some degree of eye boogers is normal, especially when waking up in the morning. But lots of them, especially if you start developing more of them out of nowhere and have other symptoms, can indicate a problem with your eyes.
You might produce an excessive amount of eye boogers if any of these apply to you:
- You go to sleep with makeup on.
- You wear contacts.
- You apply products including drops to your eyes to help treat dry eye syndrome.
- You apply products near the eyes that might be irritating, such as eye cream, serums, mascara, etc.
- Dirt and dust are making their way into your eyes, for example if you’re working somewhere dirty.
- You have seasonal allergies that can cause watery, itchy eyes.
- An eye infection has developed in your eyes, which is causing them to be watery and pussy.
Eye infections that might be causing more mucus in your eyes than usual can include:
- conjunctivitis (pink eye)
- Blepharitis, a common eye disorder that causes the eyelid to become inflamed and swollen. People who have oily skin, dry eyes or dandruff are at a greater risk of developing blepharitis
- chalazion, or inflamed and blocked glands in the eyelids
- scratched cornea
- blocked tear duct (this is especially common in babies)
How to Get Rid of Eye Boogers
Should you remove eye boogers? Yes, you can gently remove them using a clean finger or, even better, a clean face towel or tissue.
Here are other tips for reducing how much eye boogers your eyes produce:
1. Keep Your Eye Area Clean
To avoid debris from getting into your eyes, keep your eyelids and the area around your eyes clean. Wash your whole face, including your eyes, once or twice daily using a natural, non-irritating soap. Try not to get soap directly in your eyes.
Always wash your hands before touching your eyes, and try not to rub them often.
2. Always Remove Makeup at Night
Sleeping with makeup on is one of the leading causes of eye boogers. Make sure to wash off all makeup thoroughly before going to sleep, using a mild cleanser that doesn’t contain fragrances. (You can follow up with a natural moisturizer, such as this homemade Moisturizer for Dry Skin.)
Wash eye makeup off with a clean washcloth and soap rather than makeup remover pads. These can leave product behind on your face and eyes that can trigger reactions. If you do use makeup remover, splash it off, or wash your face after.
Another common recommendation is to replace your eye makeup, such as mascara and eyeliner, about every six months. These can accumulate bacteria that can then be transferred to your eyes, so avoid keeping open products for too long.
3. Remove and Clean Contact Lenses Every Night
If you wear contact lenses, be sure to remove them every night before bed. Clean them well with proper solution, and replace them as instructed depending on the kind.
If you wear long-term contact lenses (two weeks or more) and find your eyes are often irritated and slimy, consider switching to daily contacts or wearing glasses more.
It’s also common to have dry eyes if you wear contact lenses for many hours. You can try re-wetting your eyes with lubricating eye drops to cleanse and refresh them.
4. Apply a Warm Compress to Irritated Eyes
If your eyes are swollen and red for some reason and you’re noticing more mucus building, try gently pressing a warm washcloth against the area for several minutes. You can do this a couple times a day to help soothe and clean the eyes. However, if lasts for several days or gets worse, head to your doctor for an exam.
5. Avoid Allergens and Irritants Near Your Eyes
Generally speaking, be careful about applying any commercial products near your eyes that contain potential allergens. A lot of makeup, skin and hair products contain irritants that can cause inflammation of the eyes.
If you suspect your eyes are suffering due to seasonal or food allergies, try an elimination diet, or speak to your doctor about ways to manage your symptoms.
Risks and Side Effects
Visit your doctor right away if you suspect that you have an eye infection. You might have something such as pink eye that is caused by bacteria or another virus. Look out for signs of an infection or allergic reaction such as:
- Red or pink eyes
- Swelling and pain
- Styes that last more than several days or other new lumps
- Feeling as if there is something stuck in the eye, such a tiny piece of dirt or even a dried contact
- Changes in vision
- Increased sensitivity to light
- Eye twitching
- Your eyes produce mucus, also called rheum, to help keep them clean. Sometimes this mucus accumulates and winds up in the eyelashes or corners of the eyes, which we call “eye boogers.”
- You’re more likely to have lots of eye boogies if dust, dander, mascara, other makeup and chemicals enter your eyes.
- Here’s how to get rid of eye boogers: Be sure to clean your eyes and face regularly, and avoid touching them with dirty hands, sleeping with makeup on, sleeping in contacts or using products that are irritating.
- Look out for other signs of an infection, such as pink or red eyes, burning, pain, swelling and vision changes.