Some people with conjunctivitis (“pink eye”) may experience mucopurulent discharge — a mix of mucus and pus. This usually suggests a bacterial infection, but not always. Too much discharge might also mean a severe infection.

Conjunctivitis — more commonly known as “pink eye” — is an infection of the mucus membranes that coat your eyes and the insides of your eyelids. This membrane is called your conjunctiva.

Mucopurulent refers to a type of liquid discharge. “Muco” relates to mucus, and “purulent” relates to pus. So mucopurulent discharge contains both mucus and pus.

There are many causes of conjunctivitis. It could be due to a virus or the result of allergies, among other causes. Regardless of the cause, mucopurulent discharge from your eyes may be a symptom of pink eye.

Let’s examine how mucopurulent discharge relates to conjunctivitis and what you should do if you have it.

Mucopurulent eye discharge is a fluid that secretes from your eyes. It’s made of both mucus and pus, and it contains a mix of:

  • water
  • dead cells and tissue
  • proteins
  • lipids (fats)
  • microorganisms like bacteria

Mucopurulent discharge is a symptom of many conditions. It can affect places other than your eyes, but that’s where it will occur if it’s a symptom of conjunctivitis.

The discharge is whitish-yellow in color. It’s usually a thick and somewhat sticky substance.

Frequently, it will stick to your eyelashes, becoming crusty or gluey and sometimes making them stick shut. This is especially true after sleeping, when your eyes have been closed and the lashes are together for a prolonged period.

Your eyes naturally produce mucus as a normal part of their functioning. This is true when your eyes are healthy, so it makes sense that they would continue to make mucus when you have conjunctivitis.

Part of the role your eye mucus plays is to help clear away debris from your eyes in the form of tears. If you have conjunctivitis, your eyes have more waste material to contend with. You might think of it as similar to having a runny nose when you have a common cold.

The pus is a direct result of conjunctivitis. It’s made of dead tissue and white blood cells that died fighting off the infection. As pus accumulates in your eyes, it mixes with the mucus and becomes one substance.

Mucopurulent discharge might roll from your eyes in beads, like tears. It could also accumulate in the corners of your eyes or eyelashes, where they dry out and become sticky or hard.

Does mucopurulent discharge indicate the cause of conjunctivitis?

Experts previously believed that mucopurulent discharge was indicative of bacterial conjunctivitis. But research has yielded inconsistent results on whether this holds up.

It is possible to have bacterial conjunctivitis without mucopurulent discharge, and it’s also possible to have this discharge due to viral or allergic conjunctivitis.

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Mucopurulent eye discharge tends to either become sticky or harden into a crusty material after it comes out of your eyes.

Because of this, it’s very common to feel a buildup of discharge on your eyelashes after sleeping. Your eyelashes may be stuck together, and you’ll need to cleanse them with a damp, cool, clean washcloth.

Other symptoms that you might notice while you have mucopurulent discharge due to conjunctivitis include:

Conjunctivitis is one of the more common reasons to visit a doctor’s office or emergency department.

Often conjunctivitis clears up in 1 to 2 weeks without severe complications. But according to a 2020 review, excessive mucopurulent discharge may suggest a more severe infection. You may wish to seek medical help if you notice a lot of this type of discharge.

You may also require medical attention if you experience one or more of the following:

  • eye pain
  • light sensitivity
  • blurry vision
  • intense redness

You should also seek medical attention if you have a weakened immune system or if your newborn shows signs of conjunctivitis.

Frequently a doctor will prescribe antibiotics, with or without laboratory confirmation of bacterial conjunctivitis. Talk with your doctor if symptoms worsen or fail to improve over the course of a week after being treated.

You may also decide to have another appointment with a doctor if your conjunctivitis continues to come back.

Getting the proper treatment depends on correctly diagnosing the cause of conjunctivitis with mucopurulent discharge.

Doctors typically treat viral conjunctivitis with supportive care. This may include cold compresses or artificial tears to help relieve symptoms while the infection runs its course.

If they suspect bacterial conjunctivitis, they may prescribe antibiotics.

If your mucopurulent discharge is due to allergic conjunctivitis, it’s first helpful to avoid the allergen as much as possible. Then, allergy medications and eye drops can help to relieve symptoms.

Whether or not your mucopurulent conjunctivitis is contagious will depend on the underlying cause of your conjunctivitis.

Both viral and bacterial causes of conjunctivitis are common. Both are contagious, and your mucopurulent discharge would likely contain infectious microorganisms.

On the other hand, allergic conjunctivitis is frequently due to an immune response to things like pollen, grass, and animal dander. Pink eye might also occur if your eyes become irritated by contact lenses, pollution, or chemicals like chlorine. These types of pink eye are not contagious.

Whether or not your conjunctivitis is contagious, it’s still a good idea to practice transmission prevention by avoiding touching your eyes and regularly washing your hands.

Conjunctivitis, or pink eye, may cause mucopurulent eye discharge — a secretion of mucus and pus from your eyes. It often feels tacky or clumpy, and it’s especially prevalent after sleeping.

This type of discharge usually means that a bacterial infection is the cause of your pink eye, but that isn’t always the case.

Excessive mucopurulent discharge may suggest a severe infection. Talk with a doctor to identify the cause of the infection and learn about options to manage your symptoms.