What It Really Means If You Have Stringy Mucus In Your Eyes

It's not uncommon to wake up with a crusty crumble or two sitting in the inner corner of your eye. Sometimes referred to as "sleep," Downtown Eyes explains that those crumbles are pieces of hardened eye discharge that have solidified due to a lack of blinking while snoozing. An accumulation of mucus, skin cells, oil, and more, eye boogers provide an essential service by ridding our eyes of potential contaminants. However, there are different kinds of eye discharge. Depending on its color and consistency, some mucus may indicate a potential eye condition.

In some cases, eye discharge may simply be the body's natural response to wearing contact lenses or the result of purging the eye of debris (via Downtown Eyes). Mucus that is yellow, green, or gray in color, however, can indicate a potential infection. What does it mean when you notice the presence of stringy, white mucus in your eye, and is this kind of discharge cause for concern?

If you discover the build-up of white, stringy discharge in your eyes, it could be a sign of allergic conjunctivitis (per Johns Hopkins Medicine). The condition is caused by inflammation of the tissue lining the inside of the eyelid, as well as the white portion of the eyes. 

The difference between viral conjunctivitis and allergic conjunctivitis

Allergic conjunctivitis is characterized by redness, intense itching, eyelid swelling, runny nose, sneezing, and watery or stringy white eye discharge (via Johns Hopkins Medicine). According to 2021 research published in the Merck Manual, roughly 20% of people experience allergic conjunctivitis on some level.

While there is some overlap in symptoms, allergic conjunctivitis and pink eye (conjunctivitis) are not the same condition, reports Johns Hopkins Medicine. While both may be characterized by redness, tearing, and gritty sensations in the eye, allergic conjunctivitis is stimulated by allergens, such as pollen, animal dander, mold, or dust. Pink eye, on the other hand, is the result of eye irritation or viral infection. If you're having difficulty telling the conditions apart, know that intense eye itching is a symptom unique only to allergic conjunctivitis. Additionally, symptoms of viral pink eye are usually observed in one eye before spreading to the other, while allergic conjunctivitis often affects both eyes simultaneously.

In the event that your allergy symptoms begin to interfere with your day-to-day life, be sure to consult with a doctor. Downtown Eyes explains that a specialist can help treat symptoms with prescription medication or eye drops. Regular use of chilled, over-the-counter artificial tears may also help relieve symptoms by keeping the eyes moist. They may also help break down any allergen particles in the eye that would otherwise trigger an immune response.