Eye Discharge Symptoms
Many people will experience discharge from the eye at some point, especially in childhood. Depending on the cause, the discharge may be thick or thin and can be a variety of colors, and there will likely be other eye symptoms present.
The eyes are complex structures with multiple components that can be involved in conditions that cause eye discharge symptoms. A thin see-through tissue, the conjunctiva, covers the front of the eye and the inner eyelids. Just below the conjunctiva is the cornea, a curved transparent structure overlying the iris and pupil. The cornea bends light as it enters the eye, bringing it into focus so that you can see objects clearly. Tears are drained by the lacrimal system, a group of structures adjacent to the eye [2, 9].
Symptoms that can be associated with eye discharge include:
Eye Discharge Causes Overview
Infection of the conjunctiva:
- Viral conjunctivitis: One of the most common causes of eye discharge is a viral infection of the conjunctiva. The discharge will be watery, and often starts after an upper respiratory infection. 
- Bacterial conjunctivitis: A bacterial infection of the conjunctiva can cause thick eye discharge that is yellow, green, or white in color .
- Sexually transmitted infections: Chlamydia or gonorrhea can cause infection of the conjunctiva in addition to the genital tract. This can occur in adults, but newborns can also acquire chlamydial or gonococcal conjunctivitis during delivery.
Other types of infection:
- Corneal infection: One potentially severe cause of eye discharge symptoms is an infection of the cornea, commonly associated with poor contact lens hygiene .
- Eyelid infection: Chronic bacterial infection and inflammation of the eyelids can cause eye discharge symptoms, along with eyelid swelling and flakes on the eyelashes .
- Allergic conjunctivitis: The conjunctiva can become inflamed due to exposure to environmental allergens. Usually the eye discharge will be watery and accompanied by intense eye itchiness [7, 16].
- Vernal keratoconjunctivitis: A more severe allergic condition involves inflammation of both the conjunctiva and the cornea. In this case there will be thick discharge, light sensitivity, and eyelid thickening .
Other eye discharge causes:
- Foreign body: The eye may produce discharge in response to a retained object, such as a splinter of wood .
- Blockage of the lacrimal system: Obstruction of one of the components of the lacrimal system commonly occurs in newborns but can also happen in adults. Tears are unable to drain normally, causing excess tearing and eye discharge symptoms .
- Dry eye: A condition causing overly dry eyes can also cause intermittent periods of excess tearing or eye discharge as the eyes attempt to compensate for chronic dryness .
A.I. Health Assistant Causes for Eye Discharge
The list below shows results from the use of our A.I. Health Assistant by Buoy users who experienced eye discharge. This list does not constitute medical advice.
1.Acute Allergic Conjunctivitis
Itchy, red, swelling of the whites of the eyes can be caused by allergies to any number of things (like pollen, hay, etc).
This typically occurs every season
- Top Symptoms:
- eye itch, eye redness, watery eye discharge, itch in both eyes, eye redness
- Symptoms that always occur with acute allergic conjunctivitis:
- eye itch, eye redness
- Symptoms that never occur with acute allergic conjunctivitis:
- lump in front of the ear, vision changes
- Phone call or in-person visit
Pink eye conjunctivitis is an infection of the whites of the eyes by a virus. It is extremely infectious and can spread from person-to-person easily.
Sometimes eye irritation and discharge may get worse for a few days before getting better, but usually symptoms resolve within a week.
- Top Symptoms:
- eye redness, eye itch, sensitivity to light, feeling of something in the eye, watery eye discharge
- Symptoms that always occur with viral conjunctivitis:
- eye redness
Bacterial conjunctivitis is one of the most common eye problems. It occurs from an infection of the whites of the eye.
With treatment, bacterial conjunctivitis resolves in a a few days.
- Top Symptoms:
- sore throat, eye redness, eye itch, watery eye discharge, eye redness
- Symptoms that always occur with bacterial conjunctivitis:
- eye redness
- Primary care doctor
Eye Discharge Checker
Take a quiz to find out why you’re having eye discharge.Take Quiz
Vernal conjunctivitis is long-term (chronic) swelling (inflammation) of the outer lining of the eyes due to an allergic reaction. Vernal conjunctivitis often occurs in people with a strong family history of allergies, such as allergic rhinitis, asthma, and eczema.
Most patients get better after puberty. If not, this becomes a chronic, seasonal problem
- Ultra rare
- Top Symptoms:
- wateriness in both eyes, eye itch, eye redness, sensitivity to light, feeling of something in the eye
- Primary care doctor
5.Contact Lens - Related Eye Infection
Millions of people wear contact lens daily without issue; however, there is a risk of infection. Often, infection is avoidable by keeping lenses clean.
Recovery depends on type of infection.
- Top Symptoms:
- eye redness, wateriness in both eyes, sensitivity to light, constant eye redness, eye redness
- Symptoms that always occur with contact lens-related eye infection:
- eye redness, constant eye redness
- In-person visit
6.Chronic Allergic Conjunctivitis
Itchy, red, swelling of the whites of the eyes caused by allergies to any number of things (like pollen, hay, etc).
- Top Symptoms:
- watery eye discharge, eye redness, itch in both eyes, severe eye itch, swollen eyelid
- Symptoms that always occur with chronic allergic conjunctivitis:
- itch in both eyes, eye redness, severe eye itch
- Symptoms that never occur with chronic allergic conjunctivitis:
- vision changes, lump in front of the ear
Eye Discharge Treatments and Relief
Many causes of eye discharge can be managed at home or with a non-emergent appointment [3, 6, 7, 8, 9]. However, some severe conditions that cause eye discharge symptoms can lead to vision loss without rapid diagnosis and treatment [4, 5, 10, 13, 14].
Seek emergency eye discharge treatment if:
- You have severe eye pain .
- You are experiencing visual changes such as blurriness.
- You have a possible exposure to gonorrhea.
- You have rapidly developed thick discharge so severe that it re-accumulates whenever you wipe it away.
- There has been an injury to the eye, particularly if an object may have been left behind.
- You have previously been diagnosed with a medical condition that causes reduced immune system functioning.
In some cases, even though emergency eye discharge treatment isn't necessary, you may need medical evaluation and treatment .
Make an appointment with your medical provider if:
- Your eye discharge symptoms continue for more than a week .
- You wear contact lenses .
- You are experiencing light sensitivity .
- You were previously diagnosed with a chronic eye condition, such as allergic conjunctivitis, and your symptoms have worsened or are not responding to your usual treatment .
Your medical provider may prescribe one or more of the following treatments, depending on the cause of your eye discharge symptoms:
- Antibiotic eye drops to treat infection .
- Oral antibiotics for chronic infection or if a sexually transmitted infection is suspected.
- Anti-inflammatory eye drops to treat allergic symptoms.
- Referral to an ophthalmologist for management of complicated infections or conditions that require surgical treatment .
Some home treatments may help with eye discharge symptoms.
- Avoid possible allergens such as pollen and dust .
- Cool or warm compresses can help relieve eye discomfort.
- If you typically wear contact lenses, switch to glasses.
- Antihistamine drops may be helpful for allergic eye discharge symptoms.
- Artificial tears can help with dry eyes.
- Cleaning the eyelids with a mild soap can help with eyelid infection and inflammation.
FAQs About Eye Discharge
Here are some frequently asked questions about eye discharge.
Is eye discharge contagious?
One of the most common causes of eye discharge is conjunctivitis, an inflammation of the thin protective layer that covers the eye and eyelids [4, 8, 14, 16]. This inflammation is often caused by a viral or bacterial infection, both of which are highly contagious. To prevent infecting other people, make sure to wash your hands frequently and avoid sharing personal items like pillowcases.
Why do I have eye discharge when I have a sinus infection?
Eye discharge is often associated with a bacterial or viral infection of the conjunctiva, the eye’s thin protective layer [4, 14, 16]. In many cases the infection starts in nearby structures and then spreads to the eyes . This can occur with an upper respiratory infection such as a sinus infection, or with an ear infection.
Why is my eye discharge white?
There are two major types of eye discharge: watery and clear or thick with a color such as white, yellow, or green. Thick white discharge points to a bacterial infection as a likely underlying cause. This is in contrast to clear discharge, which is more likely to be caused by allergies or a viral infection.
Can allergies cause eye discharge?
Yes, allergies can cause eye discharge . Typically there will also be redness and severe itchiness. The symptoms may occur seasonally or throughout the year. Eye discharge associated with allergies is usually watery, but in a more severe allergic condition that is periodic and usually in the spring called vernal keratoconjunctivitis, the discharge may be thick and stringy.
What causes crust on eyelids?
Crust on the eyelids, especially when first waking up in the morning, is a common sign of a bacterial infection [4, 8, 14, 16]. Sometimes there will be so much crusty eye discharge that it is difficult to open your eyes. Eyelid crust can also be caused by an acute or chronic infection of the eyelids.
Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Eye Discharge
- Q.Do you feel like there is something in your eye?
- Q.Does anyone in your family have asthma, dermatitis, or allergies to pollen/animals/mold?
- Q.When you wake up in the morning (or from a nap) are your eyes crusty?
- Q.Does light bother your eyes more than usual?
If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions, try our eye discharge symptom checker to find out more.Take Quiz
Eye Discharge Symptom Checker Statistics
People who have experienced eye discharge have also experienced:
- 6% Sore Throat
- 6% Cough
- 5% Eye Itch
People who have experienced eye discharge had symptoms persist for:
- 34% Less Than a Week
- 32% Less Than a Day
- 18% Over a Month
People who have experienced eye discharge were most often matched with:
- 57% Bacterial Conjunctivitis
- 28% Acute Allergic Conjunctivitis
- 14% Viral Conjunctivitis
Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).