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What are the Most Common Causes of Discharge from the Eye?

By Susan Grindstaff
Updated May 17, 2024
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Discharge from the eye can have several causes and is considered a natural reaction to a wide variety of eye irritants. Many people wake up to find yellowish crusts in and around their eyes. This crust develops from mucus that leaks out of the eye during sleep. This is considered a very common type of discharge from the eye and is usually caused by exposure to an environmental source such as makeup or skin oil that has tried to invade the eye itself. Sometimes discharge from the eye can be caused by eye infections or the common cold.

In some cases, eye mucus is caused by an allergic reaction. People who are allergic to pollen often exhibit symptoms that include eye swelling and redness, as well as mucus drainage from tear ducts. Many people who suffer allergies that involve the eye develop a condition called allergic conjunctivitis. This is an irritation of the thin layer of tissue witch covers the eye, and because it is allergy-related, it is often a seasonal condition. For instance, people who are allergic to pollen most often suffer the condition during spring, and people who are allergic to ragweed typically suffer during the fall.

Many times, especially in women, makeup or other skin care treatments may be the cause of discharge from the eye. This can happen because the wearer may be allergic to the makeup, and in these instances, the discharge would typically occur any time of the day. If the discharge is primarily at night, it may be because the makeup was not thoroughly removed, and some of it could be getting into the eye itself. When this happens, the natural reaction of the eye is to try and rid itself of the foreign substance. In doing so, the eye produces liquid and mucus in an attempt to wash it away.

One of the most common causes of discharge from the eye is an eye infection called pink eye. Pink eye is a type of conjunctivitis believed to be caused by a viral infection, and is typically considered highly contagious. If often spreads through schools so quickly that children with pink eye are ordered to stay home until the condition passes. The symptoms of pink eye include pink or red eyes and heavy drainage from the eye. In addition, many people with pink eye also have symptoms commonly associated with colds, such as sneezing, nasal congestion, and cough.

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Discussion Comments
By bear78 — On Aug 02, 2013

What does discharge look like? Does it have to be thick and mucus like? Or can it just look like tears?

When I have allergies, I get white discharge from my eye. I basically look like I'm crying, it looks like tears. Is this considered discharge or something else? Why do I get eye discharge when I have seasonal allergies?

By burcinc — On Aug 02, 2013

@ysmina-- Yes, pink eye can also cause swelling. Is the discharge colored?

When I get a pink eye, I get green discharge from my eye. It's very disturbing.

Using warm tea bags and wiping the eye with hot water really helps. I usually wipe my eye throughout the day when I have a pink eye. I also have an anti-inflammatory eye drop that helps with the discharge and redness.

By ysmina — On Aug 01, 2013

Does pink eye also cause eye swelling, in addition to redness and discharge?

My son has discharge and his eye is also red and swollen. Why should I do if it's pink eye?

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