White eye discharge in one or both of your eyes is often an indication of irritation or an eye infection. In other cases, this discharge or “sleep” may just be a buildup of oil and mucus that accumulates while you’re resting. White eye discharge may not be an initial cause for concern in some cases, but medical attention is still recommended to ensure your condition does not cause damaging complications.

Common irritants may be to blame for your white eye discharge. However, there are also a number of conditions that can cause eye irritation, discharge, and general discomfort.

Conjunctivitis

Conjunctivitis, more commonly referred to as pinkeye, is an inflammation of the membrane that lines your eyelid. When blood vessels in this membrane become inflamed, it causes your eye to appear pink or red in color. Conjunctivitis can be a common infection, often caused by bacteria or a virus. In many cases, conjunctivitis can be contagious.

Other than eye redness, symptoms associated with this infection include:

  • itchiness
  • discharge in one or both eyes
  • tearing
  • pain
  • grittiness or irritation

Treatment for pink eye typically focuses on relieving symptoms. Your doctor may prescribe eye drops and recommend applying cold compresses to help with discomfort. If you experience pink eye as an allergy symptom, your doctor may also recommend anti-inflammatory medication and allergy medication.

Allergies

Eye allergies, or allergic conjunctivitis, is an immune response that occurs when your eye is irritated by allergens such as pollen or dust. This form of conjunctivitis can affect one or both eyes, and may also be accompanied by congestion and eye discharge. Other symptoms associated with eye allergies include:

Allergy medication and associated shots may be helpful in treating eye allergy symptoms. Your doctor may also prescribe eye drops to relieve inflammation and discomfort. However, the best way to prevent an allergic reaction and eye irritation is to avoid the known allergen, if possible.

Corneal ulcer

In more extreme cases of dry eye or infection, you may develop a corneal ulcer. The cornea is a clear membrane that covers the iris and the pupil. When it becomes inflamed or infected, an ulcer can form and may cause white eye discharge. Other symptoms associated with corneal ulcers include:

Most cases of corneal ulcers require treatment. If they are causing significant pain, you may need antibiotic treatment. In severe cases, if a corneal ulcer permanently affects your vision or causes lasting damage, a cornea transplant may be necessary.

You should consult your doctor if your eye discharge becomes excessive or doesn’t improve after a week. In more severe cases, your eye discharge may occur with other symptoms such as pain and impaired vision.

If you begin to experience adverse symptoms alongside your eye discharge, or if you notice an irregular-colored discharge, seek immediate medical attention. These may be signs of a more serious underlying condition.

White eye discharge can be caused by a number of eye conditions. In some cases, this symptom is no cause for alarm. However, if it becomes excessive or is accompanied by irregular symptoms, you should visit a doctor. There are home treatments to help with symptoms, but antibiotics and other professional medical attention may be necessary to improve your condition.