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Eye Discharge - Symptom Evaluation

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Discharge from the eyes usually indicates the presence of infection or allergy and should be promptly treated.

The eyes are normally moistened with a thin film of tears that regularly washes the surface of the eyes off dust particles and other minute foreign bodies. The tear film is secreted by the tear glands situated at the upper and outer corner of the eyes and spreads over the eyes during blinking. The excess fluid is drained out through the lacrimal ducts into the nose, thus preventing excessive overflow of tears.

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Excessive tearing of the eyes is most commonly due to crying. Besides, since tears protect the eyes, any other condition affecting the eye can cause excessive tearing. Some common conditions associated with excessive tearing include:

Bright light

Improper drainage of tears. This could be due to obstruction in the drainage pathways or inward or outward turning of the eyelids.

Irritation or allergy to dust or air pollution

An abrasion in the eye

Some amount of whitish eye discharge accumulates at the angles of the eyes after a good nightís sleep. In other cases, eye discharge is a consequence of a disease affecting the eyes; the type of discharge helps to identify the underlying eye problem. Discharge is usually associated with conditions affecting the superficial structures of the eye like the conjunctival membranes (the membrane that lines the eyes and the inner surface of the eyelids).

Some conditions associated with eye discharge are listed below:

Watery or Mucoid Discharge: Watery or mucoid discharge from the eyes is usually due to the following conditions:

Viral Conjunctivitis: Inflammation of the conjunctiva by viruses like adenovirus, herpes simplex virus, enterovirus, varicella zoster virus and Epstein Barr virus results in viral conjunctivitis. The discharge from the eyes is watery or mucoid. Other symptoms include eyelid swelling, blurred vision, redness and a foreign body sensation. The patient may also show symptoms of an upper respiratory tract infection.

Allergic Conjunctivitis: Allergic conjunctivitis results in a stringy, white mucus discharge from the eyes. The eyes may appear red and itchy. Other symptoms of allergy like a runny nose and sneezing may also be present.

Keratoconjunctivitis Sicca (Dry Eyes): Dry eyes or keratoconjunctivitis sicca is a condition where the tear film is unstable; it is either not well formed or evaporates quickly. The eyes sometimes show mucoid discharge or at times excessive tearing. Other symptoms are a foreign-body sensation or a gritty feeling in the eyes, redness and sometimes blurring of vision.

Purulent or Mucopurulent Discharge: A purulent discharge is a yellow or greenish discharge due to the presence of pus cells. Conditions that result in purulent discharge are:

Bacterial Conjunctivitis: A thick yellow or green discharge is a consequence of bacterial conjunctivitis. It is commonly caused by bacteria like Staphylococcus aureus in adults and Streptococcus pneumoniae and H. influenzae in children. The eyelids remain glued to each other on awakening due to the sticky discharge. Other associated symptoms include mild-to-moderate pain with stinging sensation and redness of eye with foreign body sensation. Gonococci, bacteria that cause gonorrhea, a sexually transmitted disease, could result in thick yellow discharge from the eyes of infants.

Chlamydia Conjunctivitis: Chlamydial infection of the eye results in red eye with excessive mucopurulent discharge. Chlamydia are transmitted sexually; the affected women may be suffering from chlamydial infection of the vagina and males from infection of the urethra. Infants may acquire the infection while passing though the birth passages.

Thick, Crusty Mucus Discharge: Inflammation of the base of the eyelids, called blepharitis results in thick crusty mucus discharge from the eyes. In addition, dandruff-like scales may form on the lids and lashes.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)


1. Which doctor should I visit in case I suffer from eye discharge?

You should visit an ophthalmologist or eye specialist in case you suffer from eye discharge.

2. When does eye discharge indicate a serious problem?

Any type of eye discharge should be investigated as soon as possible. This is because a superficial condition affecting the eye should not be allowed to progress to a point where the patient can lose vision. The presence of purulent discharge, pain in the eyeball, extreme redness and disturbance in vision warrant immediate attention.

3. My baby has mucus in the eyes. What do I do?

Eye mucus is common in infants. When your baby is born, much of the babyís body will take time to adjust to life outside of the womb. Body fluids are not regulated, and these irregularities could cause an increased production of tears. Likewise your infantís mucus could be caused and this abnormality usually goes away as your baby grows and becomes more stable. However, you should visit the pediatrician at the first sign of eye mucus because it is easier to cure when diagnosed early.

4. My child has eye discharge. What do I do?

Eye discharge is caused due to the presence of bacteria or virus in the eye, and leads to a yellow discharge (pus), redness in the white part of the eyes and puffy eyelids. This condition is also called conjunctivitis, runny eyes or mattery eyes. In this case the infection must be treated with an antibiotic eye medicine prescribed by your childís healthcare provider.
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