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  • Writer's pictureMaria Cholakova

Types of Eye Discharge

Eye discharge (rheum) is a natural body response to cleanse the eyes of debris, dust, and foreign particles. At a certain point, though, it may signal an underlying eye problem. For instance, when eye secretions becomes excessive, discolored, or accompanied by other symptoms. We hope this article will help people recognize the types of eye discharge and what they mean.

What is Eye Discharge?

Eye discharge, often referred to as "eye gunk" or "eye boogers," is a normal part of ocular health and usually accumulates in the corners of the eyes during sleep.

Beyond its apparent nuisance, eye discharge shields our eyes from external threats. But when its consistency, coloration or volume deviates from the norm, it may be a sign of eye problems.

Composition of Normal Eye Discharge

Normal ocular discharge is a clear, mucus-like substance produced by the eye's conjunctiva and glands.

Comprising a blend of water, oils, skin cells, proteins, and antibodies, it forms a protective film over the cornea and conjunctiva.

The film acts as a lubricant, ensuring smooth blinking and preventing dehydration of the ocular surface. It contains enzymes for fighting harmful microorganisms, contributing to the eye's natural defense mechanisms.

The Role of Normal Eye Discharge in Eye Protection

Beyond mere lubrication, eye discharge serves as a protective barrier and frontline defense against contaminants.

Dust, pollen, bacteria, and other foreign particles threaten our eyes all the time. The sticky consistency of normal discharge traps these intruders, preventing them from adhering to the eye surface and causing irritation or infection.

Normal eye discharge also lubricates the eyes, keeping them moist and reducing dryness.

The antimicrobial properties of certain components within the discharge neutralize pathogens, improving the eye's infection resistance.

Deviations from Normal Eye Discharge

While normal eye discharge is clear or white and minimal in quantity, changes in its appearance, consistency, or quantity suggest eye issues. Abnormal secretion is indicative of infections, allergies, inflammation, and dry eye syndrome.

One of the most prevalent problems is conjunctivitis (pink eye). In this condition, the eye's protective membranes inflame, causing excessive mucus, redness, and discomfort.

Similarly, blepharitis, an inflammation of the eyelids, can disrupt the normal production and flow of eye discharge, resulting in crusty eyelids and persistent irritation.

Bacterial and viral infections like keratitis and dacryocystitis, can manifest with heavy discharge, pain, redness, and vision disturbances.

Autoimmune conditions like Sjögren's syndrome induce dry eye syndrome, reducing the production of lubricating tears and increasing the risk of corneal damage. In dry eye syndrome, discharge tends to be minimal or absent.

Stye-related discharge appears as a thick, yellowish substance due to bacterial growth and blockage of oil-producing glands near the eyelid.

In more severe cases, abnormal fluid production may signal severe eye infections or systemic diseases.

Types of Eye Discharge

Watery Eye Discharge

We associate watery eye discharge and transparent fluid secretions, resembling tears, with allergies or viral infections. Allergic conjunctivitis, hay fever, viral conjunctivitis (pink eye), and environmental irritants are triggers to watery discharge, along with itching, redness, and tearing.

Mucous Discharge

Mucous discharge is thicker and more viscous than watery discharge. It ranges in color from clear to yellow or green, depending on the cause. Common causes of mucous discharge are bacterial or viral infections. In bacterial infections, the discharge may be yellow or green due to the presence of pus and inflammatory cells. Viral infections, on the other hand, produce clear or slightly cloudy eye gunk.

Crusty Discharge

Crusts or scales form when eye discharge dries on the eyelids and lashes. Blepharitis, a chronic inflammation of the eyelids, causes oily, dandruff-like flakes to accumulate along the eyelid. Infectious conjunctivitis (bacterial or viral), also produces crusty discharge, upon waking in the morning.

crusty types of eye discharge due to eye infection

Excessive Eye Secretions (Epiphora)

Excessive eye discharge refers to an abnormal increase in tear production or inadequate drainage of tears from the eye. In blocked tear ducts cases, tears overflow to a constant watery discharge. In dry eye syndrome, where the eyes do not produce enough tears or the tears evaporate too quickly, can also trigger compensatory reflex tearing.

Clear Eye Discharge

Clear eye discharge shows a normal physiological process of lubrication and debris removal. However, persistent or excessive clear discharge may imply dry eyes or allergic conjunctivitis.

Yellow or Green Eye Discharge (Purulent Discharge)

Purulent discharge is thick and opaque green or yellow secretion from eye. Green gunk or yellow discharge from eye often presents with crusting, inflammation, and discomfort.

Yellow or green eye discharge could mean bacterial infection, such as bacterial conjunctivitis, which is highly contagious. Styes (hordeolum) or chalazia, can also produce purulent discharge due to blockage or infection of the glands along the eyelid margins.

Thick, White, or Creamy Eye Discharge

Thick, white, or creamy discharge is often a symptom of blepharitis or meibomian gland dysfunction, which affects the oil-producing glands in the eyelids. For these conditions alterations in the composition of eye secretions in terms of viscosity and changes in color are typical.

Bloody Eye Discharge (Hemorrhagic Discharge)

Bloody eye discharge tends to occur from eye injury, or vascular abnormalities. Eye trauma or intraocular bleeding demands urgent medical attention. In some cases, a harmless subconjunctival hemorrhage may cause bloody discharge, too.

Other Variations

Frothy, foamy, or stringy types of eye discharge are unusual and an indication of eye surface disorders, corneal abnormalities, or systemic diseases. If you experience any of these variations of eye secretion, go see an eye doctor for diagnosis, guidance and appropriate management strategies.

Factors Affecting Eye Discharge

Environmental Factors

Exposure to allergens, pollen, pet dander, dust mites, and mold spores is a trigger to allergic reactions and watery eyes in susceptible individuals. What's more, pollutants, smoke, and airborne irritants may aggravate eye inflammation.

Medical Conditions

Certain medical disorders predispose individuals to eye problems and abnormal eye discharge. Diabetes, autoimmune disorders, and thyroid dysfunction affect tear film stability and sometimes alter ocular secretion.


Antihistamines, decongestants, and antidepressants may exacerbate dry eye symptoms, causing changes in tear composition. That's often manifesting in abnormal eye discharge.


Every type of eye discharge has different signs and symptoms. Knowing when to seek medical attention, is bound to preserve your long-term eye comfort. We hope this article expands your knowledge, so you can effectively protect your vision.


Checked by Atanas Bogoev, MD.


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