You can experience discharge with dry eyes if your body produces tears that are less nourishing. Discharge can also be a symptom of an infection or other health conditions.
Dry eye is a common condition that affects the outer layers of the eye, called the ocular surface, and tear film. It happens when your tears don’t function properly or when you do not produce enough tears to nourish and moisturize your eyes.
Dry eye syndrome causes symptoms such as:
- blurry vision
- discharge that can become dry and crusty
Read on to learn more about dry eye discharge, including where it comes from, the cause, and how to treat it.
It is possible to have discharge when your eyes are dry. Your eyes may become dry for various reasons.
The tear film creates a protective barrier between the surface of your eye and your environment. The tear film is a mix of oils, water, and mucus that are typically in balance.
Blepharitis causes your tears to evaporate too quickly, leading to dry eyes and excess oil that can cause mucus.
Your body may also compensate by producing tears that are less nourishing. This can lead to an imbalanced tear film and can cause discharge. This discharge often appears as watery or stringy mucus in or near your eyes.
An imbalanced tear film can also cause:
- vision concerns
- light sensitivity
You may have eye mucus for other reasons, too. These can include:
- an infection, such as pink eye or a stye
- a blocked tear duct
When you blink, a thin layer of tear film spreads across the surface of your eye, helping make the eye’s surface smooth and moist so you can see clearly. It also provides protection from infections and irritants, including dirt and dust.
The tear film covers the cornea and is made of three layers:
- The oily layer: The meibomian glands along the eyelids produce the superficial layer, which creates a smooth surface and prevents tears from evaporating too quickly.
- The watery layer: The lacrimal glands in the eyelids produce the middle layer that nourishes the eye tissue, helps the eye retain moisture, and washes away foreign particles in order to keep the eye surface clean.
- The mucus layer: The inner layer is made up of mucins, or glycoproteins, that are produced by conjunctival goblet cells. The conjunctiva creates mucus, which helps retain moisture so the tear film sticks to the eye.
Dry eye discharge is composed mostly of mucus, oil, and various debris. When your eyes are drier than usual, you may notice that the lack of water causes the mucus and oil to dry out and stick together. This can cause a buildup of sticky or gritty discharge in the corners of your eyes.
Eye discharge helps clear dust and debris to keep your tear film and ocular surface clean. Usually, with every blink, the tear film flushes the mucus before it can harden.
It’s typical to have a small amount of discharge with dry eyes, especially after you sleep.
If you have a large amount of crusted green or yellow discharge or your eyelids are stuck shut, it could be a sign of an infection.
- aqueous tear deficiency
- meibomian gland dysfunction
To maintain eye health and improve comfort, it’s important to treat dry eye discharge, which may be mild to severe. Left untreated, severe dry eyes can cause damage to your cornea, which is the transparent outer layer at the front of your eye.
Dry eye treatment may depend on the cause of your symptoms.
Treatment could include medications. You may need to change your medications and treat the underlying condition, such as allergies or an eye infection.
Treatments for dry eye discharge include:
- eye drops
- autologous serum eye drops
- ointments and moisturizing gels
- corticosteroids (anti-inflammatory medications)
- Restasis (cyclosporine)
- Xiidra (lifitegrast)
- macrolides or tetracyclines oral antibiotics
- therapeutic contact lenses
- intense pulsed light therapy
- vitamin A supplements
- omega-3 fatty acids supplements
If your dry eye discharge is severe, your doctor may suggest tear duct plugs, which help your eyes retain tears longer and prevent them from draining too quickly.
These tiny silicone or gel plugs, called punctual plugs, are inserted in your tear ducts. Your doctor may also advise surgery to seal your tear ducts permanently.
In some cases, you may be able to reduce eye discharge due to dry eyes at home with over-the-counter eye drops or liquid tears.
Some other practices may help. These can include:
- applying a warm compress
- reducing exposure to irritants, including pollution, chemical fumes, and cigarette smoke
- avoiding wind, dust, and air conditioning
- avoiding low humidity and using a humidifier
- wearing protective eyewear outdoors
- reducing screen time and taking frequent breaks during use
- staying hydrated
- getting enough sleep
- wearing moisture goggles during sleep
- using eyelid wipes, cleansers, and scrubs
Reach out to a doctor if your dry eye discharge symptoms do not improve with treatment or if your severe dry eye discharge is affecting your daily life.
An ophthalmologist, a doctor who specializes in the eyes, can perform a slit lamp exam to check for dry eye and other eye concerns. They may check to see:
- if your eyes are producing enough tears
- how quickly your tears dry up
- your eyelid structure
- the quality and thickness of your tears
What causes dry crusty eyes?
You can have dry crusty eyes due to an imbalanced tear film, infection, allergies, or a blocked tear duct.
How do you fix dry crusty eyes?
Treating the cause of your dry eye discharge can help reduce symptoms. Treatment can involve eye drops, medication, and other therapies, depending on the specific cause.
What is the dry crusty eye discharge?
Dry eye discharge contains mostly mucus, oil, and other debris. If caused by an infection, it may also contain bacteria.
Dry eye discharge is relatively common and usually occurs in small amounts. Often, it is due to an imbalanced tear film, which can lead to fast tear evaporation and an insufficient supply of quality tears.
To retain eye moisture and prevent excess discharge, you may use a combination of prescription medications, over-the-counter treatments, and lifestyle changes.