We all have it, sometimes. And if you have little children like I do, you probably get to see a lot of it. What is it? It’s eye gunk!
What is it really?
That sometimes yellow, sometimes crusty, gross gunk that sits in the corner of your eyes or sticks to your lashes has always been a mystery to me. Some people call it “eye boogers” (a term I don’t prefer). Others call it “sleep sand” or “eye goop.”
But, in the medical world, the correct term is: mattering. What mattering is, essentially, is dried out dirt and debris from your eyes that isn’t swept out and diluted by your tears as it would be if you were awake and blinking constantly.
Tears are comprised of protein and water, mucous and oils. This combination moistens your eyes and allows you to blink out dirt and debris. But, at night when the stuff in your eye doesn’t get washed out, it sits and can get crumbly, hard, or thick and gunky.
Does the appearance of this “eye gunk” mean anything?
Sometimes. The color or texture of your gunk can signify infection. For example, if a person tends to have a lot of thick, gooey yellowish-green stuff coming out of their eyes it may mean they have contracted conjunctivitis or an eye infection. Sometimes your eye discharge can signal that there is something wrong.
In people that have allergies, gunk is often there in the morning. If you suffer from hay fever or have similar allergic reactions, your body just makes more mucous and some of it comes out through your eyes. For people who consistently have dry eyes, their eye gunk can seem to be thicker in texture and even appear like crumbles. People (and little children) who tend to rub their eyes a lot can also have more eye crud.
Similarly, people who wear contact lenses can seem to have more eye mattering, more often. A contact lens wearer may find themselves with drier eyes, they may rub their eyes more, and may tend to have an increase in or thicker consistency to their eye mucous. In other words, all of the above reasons for “eye goop” are usually relevant to a contact lens’ wearers.
If you feel like you have an excessive amount of mattering or gunk coming from your eyes or it is just a nuisance to you, I recommend you call your closest America’s Best optometrist and just get it checked out. In a lot of cases eye gunk, is just normal. But, it’s always better to be safe than sorry!