Overview

Mucus fishing syndrome is condition in which you repeatedly “fish” or pull strands of mucus from your eye.

A number of eye problems can cause mucus to form. When the sticky substance starts to irritate your eye, it might seem like a good idea to pull at the strands to remove the mucus. But the act of pulling out the mucus irritates the eye even more. This causes your eye to produce more mucus.

As you repeat this behavior, it creates an ongoing cycle of mucus production and removal.

Read more to learn more about the conditions that can cause eye mucus, plus how to break the cycle of mucus fishing syndrome.

What are the symptoms?

If you have mucus fishing syndrome, you frequently pull strands of mucus from your eye. This can increase eye irritation, mucus production, and the chance of developing an infection. Symptoms of eye infection include:

  • redness
  • tear production
  • stinging, irritation, or pain
  • inflammation

What causes mucus fishing syndrome?

Mucus fishing syndrome has to do with the cyclical pattern of producing and removing mucus strands from your eye.

Here are some of the conditions that can cause your eye to produce too much mucus.

Dry eye syndrome

If you have dry eye syndrome, your tears are of poor quality and don’t provide adequate lubrication to the eye. This can cause your eyes to produce excessive amounts of tears to the point of overflow. Wiping and touching your eye can lead to inflammation, irritation, and infection.

Conjunctivitis (pink eye)

Conjunctivitis can be due to an allergy, irritant, virus, or bacteria. Symptoms can include redness, irritation, and excessive watering in the eye. It can also produce a thick yellow or green mucus discharge.

Blepharitis

Blepharitis is an inflammation of the eyelids. It can be due to abnormal or insufficient oil secretion in your tears. It can cause excessive tear production, redness, and crusty eyelashes, especially in the morning. It can be a recurring condition.

Dacryocystitis

Dacryocystitis is an infection of the tear ducts that may occur due to blockage. It’s more likely to affect infants, but adults can get it, too. The main symptom is eye discharge.

Body-focused repetitive behavior (BFRB) disorder

Mucus fishing syndrome can also be due to body-focused repetitive behavior (BFRB) disorder. This is similar to repetitive hair pulling, skin picking, or nail biting. This is more than just a habit. It’s a behavior that’s difficult to control and can be harmful to your health.

If you have a BFRB, you might be more inclined to fish for mucus when you’re stressed or bored. BFRB usually starts in childhood or adolescence. It may affect as many as 1 in 20 people.

How’s it diagnosed?

Any time you have persistent mucus discharge from your eye, see your eye doctor. It’s important to get the right diagnosis. Early intervention can prevent the situation from worsening.

If you tell your doctor you’ve been pulling mucus out of your eye, it will likely lead to the diagnosis. If you don’t volunteer the information, the diagnosis can take longer.

Once you’ve been diagnosed with mucus fishing syndrome, your doctor will want to identify the original cause of your eye irritation.

Your doctor will examine both the surface and back of the eye. They’ll need to dilate your eyes in order to do this. Be prepared to wait to about an hour to drive after dilation. If possible, enlist somebody to drive you home from your appointment.

If you believe you have BFRB disorder, make an appointment with a therapist as well.

How’s it treated?

The treatment for mucus fishing syndrome is to break your fishing habit. Your doctor will instruct you to stop touching your eye and pulling at the mucus.

Additional treatment may be necessary if you have dry eye syndrome, conjunctivitis, or another eye condition. Some potential treatments for these conditions include:

  • lubricating eye drops
  • warm or cold compresses
  • antibiotics
  • steroid eye drops

Read more: The best pink eye remedies »

Once you stop fishing and treat the underlying condition, your eyes should start to improve. Eventually, mucus production will slow down and you’ll no longer feel the need to fish.

If the underlying condition has been treated, but you still can’t break the fishing pattern, talk to your doctor.

Treating BFRB

BFRB disorder can be treated through behavioral therapy, which includes habit-reversal training.

While you can’t specifically treat BFRB disorder with medication, some medicines may help reduce symptoms. Depending on the cause of your condition, these can include:

  • selective serotonin-reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
  • mood stabilizers
  • dopamine blockers
  • opioid antagonists

If you use medication, your treatment plan should also include behavioral therapy. Be sure to find a doctor with experience in treating BFRB disorder.

Are there any complications?

Untreated eye problems can increase your risk of a serious eye infection. Also, the more you touch your eyes, the greater the chance that your eyes will become infected or injured.

What’s the outlook?

Breaking a habit can take time, especially if it’s a longstanding habit.

Treating dry eye syndrome, conjunctivitis, or other diagnosed conditions will encourage your eye to produce less mucus. This should make it easier for you to stop the mucus pulling habit.

When you do manage to break the habit and underlying issues are resolved, the condition should clear up. If you experience eye irritation in the future, refrain from touching your eyes or pulling at mucus. See your eye doctor right away.

If you have BFRB disorder, continue to follow up with your therapist as needed.

Tips for eye health

You can’t prevent all eye problems, but you can take some steps to keep your eyes healthy. Here are a few tips to get you started:

  • Avoid touching your eyes unnecessarily.
  • If you wear contact lenses, make sure they’re properly disinfected. Replace your lens case often. Replace lenses as instructed by your eye doctor. Wash your hands thoroughly before handling your lenses.
  • When using eye drops, don’t let the tip touch your hands or face. This can lead to infection in the eye. If you use drops several times a day, opt for artificial tears that don’t have preservatives.
  • Wear the recommended protective eyewear when playing sports or activities that may put your eyes at risk.
  • When outdoors, wear sunglasses that block 99 to 100 percent of UV-A and UV-B radiation.
  • Don’t smoke. It increases the risk of cataracts, age-related macular degeneration, and optic nerve damage.
  • If you spend a lot of time staring at screens, look away and blink a few extra times every 20 minutes or so to reduce eyestrain.
  • Make sure your diet includes plenty of dark leafy greens such as spinach and collard greens. Fish high in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon and tuna, are also good for eye health.
  • Have a yearly eye exam that includes dilation. Some eye diseases don’t have symptoms in the early stages. Early treatment can save your vision. Tell your eye doctor if you have a family history of eye disease.
  • If you’ve been diagnosed with an eye condition, follow your doctor’s recommendations.
  • If you have eye discomfort, blurry vision, or symptoms of infection, see your doctor as soon as possible.