Waking Up with Crusty Eyes
Have you ever had a night of good, hard sleep, then you wake up, rub your eyes and discover a crusty substance in the corners of your eyes? Or have you noticed a funny discharge in your newborn’s eyes? Our eyes are constantly producing tears to help lubricate and protect them. In adults this discharge tends to be from causes other than our tear ducts, whereas newborns often get blocked tear ducts within the first few weeks after birth.
The causes of this discharge in adults could be due to several different factors. The most common cause of morning eye crusties is simply tiny pieces of matter and bits of bacteria that try to get into your eye from makeup, oily skin, and other sources of dirt or it could be from tiny salt crystals left after tears evaporate. Another common cause of discharge is conjunctivitis, which sounds scarier than it actually is. Conjunctivitis can either be infectious (known commonly as pinkeye), or it can be sterile, meaning that there is no infection, but rather the eye is irritated is due to allergies or foreign matter that got into the eye. If the pinkeye is viral the body typically fights it off within a week to ten days. If it is bacterial, however, medication is likely to be needed to prevent the infection from worsening. With conjunctivitis, the eye discharge can be so prolific that your eyes feel like they are glued shut when you wake up. If this happens, simply use a warm, wet washcloth to gently rub the discharge off.
Using old contact lenses can also cause discharge. Old contact lenses and dirty contact lenses can have a build-up of bacteria and viruses that may cause an infectious discharge. Also, with old contact lenses, oils from the eye have built up on the lens surfaces, and the immune system may stop recognizing these oils as being from the body and instead begin attacking them with an inflammatory response. Make sure to only use your contact lenses as directed; do not wear them for longer than they are meant to be worn, and clean them well.
With blocked tear ducts in babies, the discharge is simply tears that have pooled up in the tear duct and are not allowed to drain into the sinuses due to the blockage. The tears overflow, causing the eye to be constantly watery or even continuously crying. It normally happens in one eye, but sometimes both ducts can be blocked. The blocked tear ducts typically resolve on their own, although on rare occasions a probing or even surgery is required if the sinuses and tear ducts do not continue to develop normally.
If you suspect that you have an infection or have concerns about your newborn’s blocked tear ducts, be sure to contact your doctor or eye doctor to set up an appointment.