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Rheum and other Eye Discharge

Rheum is what is normally referred to as “sleep in your eyes.” It is the dry crust or wet clump that appears in the corner of your eye as you wake. The excretion is normally wet, but can become dry if there is enough time for it to evaporate. They are most commonly made up of the mucus that lining that covers the cornea and contains debris found in the eye. It can also be made up of nasal mucus, dead skin, or blood cells. It normally appears in the corners of the eyes or where the eyelashes connect to the eyelids.

During the day, your eyes keep themselves clean by being flushed with tears every time you blink. The mucus produced your conjunctiva serves as a protective layer and tears wash over it to remove any debris and excess mucus. Your eyelids also produce oil called meibum that keeps tears from evaporating too quickly. Blinking pushes excess tears, oil and mucus through the nasolacrimal duct to the nose and mouth for removal. When you’re sleeping, you aren’t blinking. Tears and mucus build up in your eye, as they are constantly produced, and filter out through the tiny openings between your eyelids.

It is common for rheum to appear in infants’ eyes and throughout their face. Tear ducts do not open properly until a few months after birth. Because of this, there is a build up of tears, oil, and mucus in a baby’s eye that appears as rheum in the morning. Because tears cannot drain properly, they may stream down the face, carrying rheum with them. This condition is called epiphora.

Rheum in the morning is actually a sign of healthy eyes. It shows that your glands are producing the materials necessary to keep your eyes healthy and clean. However, it is important to know when eye discharge can be a sign of a deeper problem.

Allergic conjunctivitis is probably the most common complication that causes abnormal discharge, as it affects one in five people every year. Rheum is normally watery or stringy. The water discharge normally continues throughout the day as well. Discharge from conjunctivitis caused by a virus is also watery, but is normally accompanied by lightly colored mucus. Conjunctivitis caused by bacteria has the most severe rheum. It is thick and sticky, and contains pus. The color is often a dark yellow or green. Rheum build up can be so severe that the eyelids can be glued shut in the morning. Eyes must be washed before they are opened again. In this case, the discharge is called mucopurulent discharge.

Conditions of the eyelid also cause mucopurulent discharge. The rheum tends to build up on the edges of the eyelid and can be crusted or could be sticky enough to glue the eyelid shut. Certain infections may cause the discharge to appear bubbly.

A corneal ulcer may cause a thick membrane of pus discharge that gets stuck on the cornea. In this case and all cases that involve mucopurulent discharge, the build up may be so severe that it can block the cornea and causes blurry vision.

A warm compress should be used to clear excessive, sticky rheum. In other cases, treating the underlying conditions can help reduce “sleep” in the morning.