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Kids’ Green Eye Discharge: Symptoms, Causes, Treatment

Reviewed by Hansa D. Bhargava, MD on July 15, 2020

People often call it eye gunk. Kids call it “eye boogers.” You may notice a cream-colored goop in the corners of your child’s eyes on some mornings when they wake up. Our eyes make oil and other fluids all the time that help flush out dirt, or debris, or lost eyelashes. Because you don’t blink when you sleep, this fluid can build up and form a crusty goop.

Most of the time, this is perfectly normal for kids. But if you suddenly notice more of it than usual or if it changes color, it could be a sign of infection.

Symptoms

Some amount of cream-colored discharge from your child’s eyes is normal, especially right as they wake up. But if there is suddenly more than usual or the color changes to greenish yellow, there may be another problem that requires help from a doctor. You also might notice:

  • Eyelashes stuck together after sleep
  • Red or pinkish color in the whites of the eye
  • Puffy eyelids
  • Your child is more sensitive to light
  • Eye rubbing due to itchiness or burning
  • Tenderness around the eyes

Call your doctor right away if your child looks sick or has:

  • Serious pain in the eye
  • Fever over 104 F
  • Any fever in a child less than 12 weeks old
  • Very red or swollen eyelids
  • Blurred vision

Causes of Eye Discharge

There are a number of things that can cause more discharge than usual from your child’s eye:

  • Pinkeye (conjunctivitis): This highly contagious infection is common among toddlers and kids. The eyes get red and swollen and could make enough pus to stick them together during sleep. Bacteria usually cause pinkeye with discharge, but in rare cases, a virus can do it too.
  • Tear duct blockage: About 1 in 10 newborns have it. You might notice a constant watering eye that sends tears down your baby’s face even when they don’t cry. The eye doesn’t get red or swollen at first, but the extra wetness can lead to an infection that causes pus to crust the eye.
  • Something in the eye: If something like sand or dust is caught behind the eyelids, the eye makes pus in response. If you suspect an infection and antibiotic eyedrops don’t help, then some particles like this could be the cause of the discharge. An older child might tell you that they feel something in their eye.
  • Dry eye: Mucus, oils, water, and proteins help make up your tears. You get dry eye when these get out of balance. In response, the body will make “emergency tears” that often have too much mucus. This can lead to crusty eyes.
  • Corneal ulcers (keratitis): Very dry eyes, an injury, or an infection could lead to small sores, or ulcers, on the cornea, the clear lens that covers the front of your eye. These ulcers can produce pus and crustiness.

Eye Discharge Diagnosis

Your doctor will ask questions about your child’s medical history and symptoms and will examine your child’s eyes closely. In some cases they might take a small sample of fluid, pus, or other material from the eye to test for bacteria.

Treatment of Eye Discharge

Whatever the cause of the discharge, it’s best to take some care in the way you deal with encrusted eyes. Use a clean, warm washcloth to soften and gently wipe away pus or eye boogers. And wash your hands afterward so you don’t spread infection.

Some discharge is normal and shouldn’t need more treatment. Even mild infections like viral pinkeye often clear up on their own without medication.

Treatments mostly depend on the cause of the discharge and how serious your child’s symptoms are. Options might include:

  • Flushing dirt or objects from the eye with water or saline solution
  • Antibiotics to kill bacteria that cause infection, either as drops for the eye or to take by mouth
  • Steroid drops to lessen inflammation and ulcers
  • Surgery to remove a foreign object or fix an injury
WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

Johns Hopkins Medicine: “Keratitis (Corneal Ulcers).”

American Academy of Ophthalmology: “What Is Bacterial Keratitis?”

Seattle Children’s Hospital: “Eye -- Pus or Discharge.”

The Nemours Foundation: “Pinkeye (Conjunctivitis).”

The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center: “Picking your eye boogers could lead to infection.”

Harvard Health: “Foreign Body In Eye.”

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