Eye Discharge

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Was this helpful?
9

What is eye discharge?

Eye discharge is the secretion of liquids or other substances, besides tears, from the eyes. Discharge from the eyes may make it difficult to open the eyelids if they have been shut for extended periods, such as during sleep. This effect may be temporary or persistent.

Eye discharge can vary in color and consistency, depending on the underlying cause. Most discharge will be clear, green or yellow in color and can range in consistency from a liquid to a sticky, gel-like substance.

Eye discharge can be caused by a wide variety of conditions affecting the eye directly or from conditions that affect your whole body, such as the common cold. Eye discharge is often caused by allergies or infection. Although most causes of eye discharge are not serious, you should contact your health care provider if you have persistent or severe eye discharge, such as discharge that makes it difficult to open your eyes.

In most cases, eye discharge is not a serious condition. Persistent or severe discharge may be an indication of a serious underlying condition or disease. If eye discharge is persistent or severe or if you notice eye discharge for several days, even if it is temporary each day, or if your eye discharge causes you concern, seek prompt medical care.

Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you have sudden change in vision, loss of vision, eye pain, or bulging eyes, or if you have a high fever (higher than 101 degrees Fahrenheit).

What other symptoms might occur with eye discharge?

Eye discharge may accompany other symptoms, which vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. These symptoms may apply to the eyes or vision specifically, or they may be more general in nature.

Other eye or vision symptoms that may occur along with eye discharge

Eye discharge may accompany other symptoms affecting the eyes or vision including:

General symptoms that may occur along with eye discharge

Eye discharge may accompany symptoms related to other body systems including:

Symptoms that might indicate a serious condition

In some cases, eye discharge may occur with other symptoms that might indicate a serious condition that should be evaluated immediately in an emergency setting. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have eye discharge along with other serious symptoms including:

  • Blurred or double vision
  • Bulging of one or both eyes
  • High fever (higher than 101 degrees Fahrenheit)
  • Pain on attempted eye movement
  • Sudden change in vision, loss of vision, or eye pain

What causes eye discharge?

Eye discharge can be caused by a variety of conditions that range in severity from merely bothersome to vision threatening. If you have persistent or severe eye discharge, consult with your health care professional to determine the underlying cause and to get treatment as needed.

Common causes of eye discharge

Eye discharge may be caused by common events or conditions including:

Serious causes of eye discharge

In some cases, eye discharge may be a symptom of a serious condition that should be evaluated immediately in an emergency setting. These include:

Questions for diagnosing the cause of eye discharge

To diagnose your condition, your doctor or licensed health care practitioner will ask you several questions related to your eye discharge including:

  • How long have you been experiencing eye discharge?

  • Do you have any other symptoms?

  • Have you had any vision changes?

  • Do you have allergies?

  • Do you have any other medical conditions?

  • How severe is your eye discharge (based on quantity of discharge or difficulty opening your eyes)?

  • Does your eye discharge last throughout the day?

  • What is the color and consistency of your eye discharge?

What are the potential complications of eye discharge?

Eye discharge itself does not present serious complications, and many common causes of eye discharge, such as allergies or a common cold, are not serious. However, some causes of eye discharge may have sight-threatening, or even life-threatening, complications. For example, left untreated, corneal ulcer can lead to visual loss in the affected eye, and orbital cellulitis may lead to a brain infection. Once the underlying cause of your eye discharge is diagnosed, it is important for you to follow the treatment plan that you and your health care professional design specifically for you to reduce the risk of potential complications including:

  • Chronic eye discomfort
  • Loss of vision or blindness
  • Spread of infection
Was this helpful?
9
Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2021 Jan 6
View All Eye Health Articles
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
  1. Eye burning - itching and discharge. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003034.htm.
  2. Pink eye: usually mild and easy to treat. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/Features/Conjunctivitis/.