Eye discharge goes by a lot of names: eye gunk, eye pus or sleep in your eyes. Rheum is the medical term for eye discharge, which is a combination of skin cells, mucus, oil and other debris that builds up in the corner of your eye while you’re asleep. Its consistency (wet and sticky or dry and crusty) depends on how much of the liquid in the discharge has evaporated.
Where Does Eye Discharge Come From?
During the day, skin cells, mucus and other debris are washed away when you blink, preventing the accumulation of. But when you fall asleep, gravity and the lack of blinking cause rheum to build in your eyes. Almost everyone wakes up with sleep in their eyes. A healthy eye will produce all the liquids that cause rheum to form, though some people’s rheum might be more visible than others.
What Colour Is Eye Discharge?
Rheum is usually white or light cream. Yellow or green discharge could be a symptom of bacterial conjunctivitis (a common form of pink eye). If that is the case, you should urgently book an appointment with an ophthalmologist.
What Causes Eye Discharge?
Sleep in your eyes usually isn’t cause for concern, but if there is a noticeable difference in consistency, colour and quantity of rheum, you might need to have an eye doctor assess you for an eye infection or disease. Eye conditions that are known to cause abnormal eye discharge include:
- Conjunctivitis: Conjunctivitis (also known as pink eye), is an inflammation of the conjunctiva — the thin membrane that lines your eyelids’ inner surface.
- Blepharitis: Chronic eyelid inflammation that commonly occurs when oil glands near the base of the eyelashes become clogged.
- Stye: A reddish, pimple-like lump that forms on the outer edge of the eyelid when a clogged gland or follicle becomes infected.
- Dry Eyes: Insufficient tear production can lead to symptoms such as bloodshot eyes, a burning sensation, blurry vision, foreign body sensation and a watery eye discharge.
- Contact Lenses: Contact lens discomfort may cause dryness and irritation, as well as a discharge from frequent rubbing.
- Corneal ulcer: An abscess-like corneal infection caused by an untreated infection or trauma to the eye. Symptoms include redness, swollen eyelids and thick eye discharge.
How to Treat Eye Discharge
If an eye infection is caused by rheum buildup of eye mucus, your eye doctor is likely to prescribe antibiotics or antiviral treatment in the form of eye drops or ointment. If allergies are to blame, treatment will likely be over-the-counter eye drops. To remove eye discharge and relieve symptoms such as itching and eye discomfort, place a warm compress over your eyes.
It’s normal to wake up with a bit of rheum on the edges of your eyes. But a change in colour or consistency can indicate infection or injury, which might be a serious issue that requires immediate medical attention. Consult your doctor if you notice any changes.