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  • Writer's pictureAtanas Bogoev M.D. and Maria Cholakova

Newborn Eye Discharge

Updated: Nov 10, 2023

Newborn eye discharge is a common concern for parents and caregivers. Since we know how much babies are vulnerable to eye issues, today we explore the potential causes of eye gunk in newborns and its implications. We also share guidelines for proper care and advice on when to seek medical attention.

Ready to understand the factors contributing to eye discharge in newborns and ensure your baby's optimal eye health? Read on.

Newborn Eye Discharge: Causes & Treatment

The treatment of newborn eye discharge varies depending on the underlying cause. Most commonly, we can attribute eye discharge in newborns to several factors:

Physiological Eye Discharge

Many newborns experience physiological eye discharge during their first few weeks of life. This discharge, often referred to as "baby's eye gunk," is clear or white. It occurs because the tear ducts are still developing and it's a normal part of the baby's eye development. As the tear ducts mature, the discharge tends to resolve on its own.

In most cases, this eye discharge does not need treatment. Proper hygiene, such as gently wiping away the discharge with a clean, damp cloth or cotton pad, is usually enough. But if you notice the secretion persists or worsens, it is advisable to consult a medical professional as soon as possible.

Wiping physiological eye discharge
Wiping the natural eye discharge from newborn's eyes

Blocked Tear Ducts

Blocked tear ducts are a leading cause of excessive newborn eye discharge. When the tear ducts don't fully open, tears have difficulty draining from the eyes. Thus resulting in a buildup of mucus and discharge. Massage and warm compresses may relieve symptoms and open the ducts, but in some cases need medical intervention.

Our advice is to consult a pediatric eye doctor! They can guide you through the process, give you options for treatment, and recommend specific massage techniques. The eye doctor can also track the progress. In severe cases, surgical intervention may be necessary.

Excessive tearing (often in conjunction with light sensitivity) and excessive closing of the eyelids when looking at bright objects (blepharospasm) in newborns should be monitored and controlled as it may a a sign for congenital Glaucoma.

Bacterial or Viral Infections

Newborns are prone to bacterial and viral infections manifesting with eye discharge. Such eye infections may occur during childbirth or through contact with contaminated objects or hands. In most cases, the infections may necessitate medical treatment. So as a parent, you need to recognize the signs and symptoms early.

Going for a pediatric eye exam may shed more light on the potential cause of newborn eye discharge. As well as suggest the most effective course of treatment for your baby. If the secretion is indeed due to a bacterial or viral infection, medical treatment with antibiotics or antiviral medications (prescribed by a doctor) is essential.

Conjunctivitis (Pink Eye)

Conjunctivitis, or pink eye, is an inflammation of the membrane covering the white part of the eye and lining the inner lid. The cause may be bacterial or viral eye infections. It presents with redness, itching, and excessive gunk secretion.

Treatment for pink eye in babies depends on the cause. Bacterial conjunctivitis requires antibiotics, while viral conjunctivitis often resolves on its own. A small sample of the secretion may be examined microbiologically to see what is the causing agent and to further suggest specific treatment. It is crucial to consult a healthcare professional for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.

Allergies in Newborns

Allergies, although less common in newborns, can manifest as eye discharge. Exposure to allergens, such as dust, pet dander, or pollen, can trigger eye irritation and eye secretion. Identifying the allergen responsible for the newborn eye discharge is a must. Once you find it, take measures to minimize the baby's exposure to it.

But before you make any conclusions, please consult an eye doctor, because sometimes the problem is not an allergy at all. If it's indeed an allergic reaction, the doctor may recommend prescription antihistamines.

The Color of Eye Secretion in Newborns

The color of newborn eye discharge provides valuable insights into the severity of the issue. While clear or watery secretion is often benign and may resolve with time, colored discharges warrant immediate action.

Clear or white eye discharge in newborns is often associated with physiological eye discharge. It is not a cause for concern.

Yellow eye gunk is a sign of the presence of bacteria in the eyes or a mild eye infection. We observe it in cases of blocked tear ducts. Be sure to monitor yellow discharge, particularly if it persists or worsens.

Green secretion in babies is often a sign of a more severe infection, such as bacterial conjunctivitis. More symptoms include redness, swelling, and discomfort in the eye. Immediate medical attention is necessary!

A watery eye discharge may be a sign of blocked tear ducts. When they are partially or fully obstructed, tears cannot drain well. That's what causes watery eyes and potential crusting. If the tearing is excessive, consult a physician to rule out other newborn eye problems.

A rare but alarming occurrence is bloody newborn eye discharge. It can be a sign of trauma to the eye or other serious health issues. This is a medical emergency, seek help immediately!

When to Seek Medical Attention?

Recognizing when to seek medical attention for newborn eye discharge ensures prompt and effective medical care.

Here are some guidelines on what to look out for:

  • Persistent eye discharge

  • Worsening secretion

  • Eye redness

  • Eye swelling

  • Excessive tearing

  • Crusting on the eyelids

  • Eyelid sealing with gunk

  • Fever

  • Unilateral discharge (one-sided discharge)

Please consider these symptoms separately. Even if your baby exhibits only one or a few of these discharge warning signs, it is often enough to sound the alarm that it's time to seek a doctor's opinion.

If the eye secretion persists, worsens, or changes color, you should take your little one for a medical evaluation.

If the newborn's eyes appear red, swollen, or irritated, these could be signs of an underlying infection or other medical condition.

Excessive tearing, crusting, or sealing of the eyelids can also indicate a serious eye problem that should be assessed by a healthcare provider.

If your newborn develops a fever or exhibits other symptoms along with the discharge, a medical evaluation is necessary to rule out systemic illness.

Unilateral eye discharge (only on one eye) may be more concerning than bilateral secretion (on both eyes). The only way to know what's the best course of action is to consult a doctor.


While some newborn eye discharge cases resolve on their own, others call for prompt medical intervention to address infections, blocked tear ducts, or allergies. By following proper care guidelines and seeking medical attention on time, parents contribute to their newborn's optimal eye health.

Checked by Atanas Bogoev, MD.


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