Everyone, at some point, finds “sleep” in their eyes upon waking. Whether you call it sleep crust, eye gunk, eye goop or something else, it is generally harmless. The crusty material you find in the corner of your eyes after sleep is residue from the eye’s normal protective process.
How Does Eye Gunk Form?
While we are awake, a tear film keeps our eyes moist and healthy. The act of blinking flushes out normal mucus produced by the conjunctiva, oil from the meibomian glands, and other debris from the front surface of the eye.
Because we do not blink during sleep, eye discharge collects in the corners of our eyes and along the eyelash line. This normal eye discharge can be hard and crusty or sticky and wet.
What's Normal for Sleep Crust?
Finding crusty residue in the corners and along the lashes of your eyes when you wake up is normal. This matter can look yellow, hard and crusty, clear and sticky or thin and watery like tears.
However, some eye goop is not the typical sleep crust, and could signal that you have an eye infection or other condition. One condition that causes crusty eyes during waking hours is blepharitis, a common problem affecting the eyelid at the base of your eyelashes. Another common condition, dry eye, can make your eyes watery or sticky with stringy mucus.
Here are signs of possible problems with eye discharge:
If you have any of these problems with your eyes, call your ophthalmologist.
How to Remove Eye Crust at Home
First, always wash your hands before and after cleaning your eyes.
As tempting as it is to give your eyes a good rub with your hands in the morning, don’t do it. Your hands carry germs to the eyes, risking infection.
To remove eye crust, soak a clean washcloth in warm water (hot water can injure the delicate skin on the eyelids and around the eyes). Lay the washcloth on your eyelids and eyelashes and very gently rub your eyes to clean them.
Have pink eye (conjunctivitis) or another infection in one eye? Use a separate clean washcloth for each eye to avoid spreading the infection from one eye to the other.
Pink Eye and Goopy Eyes
Pink eye (conjunctivitis) is known for the goopy mess it makes of your eyes. But did you know that what that goop looks like varies based on the type of conjunctivitis you have?
If your eyes are sticky and gooey with a thick gray, yellow, or green discharge, the culprit is usually bacterial conjunctivitis. This is the type of pink eye that makes it hard to open your eyes in the morning due to the stickiness around the eyelids and lashes.
If the eye discharge is watery, viral conjunctivitis may be the cause. There could be a white or yellow color to the discharge. Both viral and bacterial conjunctivitis are very contagious.
If your conjunctivitis is allergy-related, the eye discharge can be watery or stringy. This form of conjunctivitis is not contagious.