June Newsletter: Causes and Treatments for Sticky Eyes

Close up of woman's infected eyes.

Causes and Treatments for Sticky Eyes

Do your eyelashes stick together in the morning? Sticky eyes aren't uncommon and can be caused by a variety of conditions. Luckily, your optometrist offers several treatments to relieve your symptoms.

Sticky Eye Causes

Sticky eyes are usually most noticeable when you first try to open your eyes. Overnight, mucus or discharge builds up and makes your eyelids feel as if they're glued together. Sticky eyes can be a symptom of several conditions that affect the eyes, including:

  • Illnesses. Did the stickiness start when you had a cold or the flu? Your body produces extra mucus when you have a virus. The sticky stuff traps germs and helps your body get rid of them. Increased mucus production not only affects your nose but can also make your eyes feel sticky. Are your eyes sticky and red? You may have conjunctivitis (pink eye), an inflammation of the conjunctiva, the tissue that covers the whites of your eyes and the insides of your eyelids.
  • Allergies. Allergies are a common cause of sticky eyes. Whether you're affected by seasonal allergies or allergies are a year-round problem, you may suffer from allergic conjunctivitis. The mucus in your eyes may look stringy and white if allergies are to blame for your symptoms.
  • Infections. Thick yellow, gray, or green mucus could be a sign of a bacterial infection, like bacterial conjunctivitis, or bacterial keratitis. Bacterial keratitis, an infection that affects the clear cornea covering the iris and pupil, is common in contact lens wearers. You may be more likely to develop bacterial keratitis if you don't wash your hands before handling your lenses or don't follow cleaning instructions.
  • Giant Papillary Conjunctivitis. Giant papillary conjunctivitis could be responsible for that sticky feeling, particularly if you wear contact lenses. The condition causes large red bumps on the inner side of your eyelids. Other symptoms include itching, pain, and discharge. Giant papillary conjunctivitis can be caused by protein buildup on your contact lenses or an allergy to the lenses, lens solutions, or cleaning products. If your lenses rub against your eye, you may also be at risk for the condition, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology.
  • Blepharitis. Blepharitis happens when the edges of the eyelids become inflamed. You may notice crusty deposits that look a little like dandruff on your eyelids. Blepharitis can also cause redness, burning, itching, light sensitivity, and tearing. Oily skin, rosacea, dandruff, or allergies may increase your blepharitis risk, according to the National Eye Institute.
  • Stye. Sticky eyes can also happen if you have a stye on your eyelid. A stye is a hard bump on the eyelid that forms due to a blockage in an oil gland.
  • Dry Eyes. As strange as it sounds, sticky eyes could be a sign that your eyes are too dry. If you have dry eye, you may notice stringy white mucus in your eyes. Other dry eye symptoms include pain, burning, sensitivity to light, or a feeling that something is stuck in your eye.

Sticky Eye Treatments

Treatments for sticky eyes vary depending on the cause. Stickiness due to viral conjunctivitis usually improves on its own. Until it does, lubricating eye drops and warm compresses can be helpful. Warm compresses also help unblock oil glands if you have a blockage in your meibomian glands.

If your symptoms are caused by allergies, allergy medication and cold compresses may relieve your symptoms. Contact lens-related problems can be improved by changing the type of lenses or solutions if you're allergic or paying more attention to contact lens hygiene.

You'll need to use prescription antibiotic or antifungal drops or ointment if you have bacterial conjunctivitis, bacterial keratitis, or another bacterial or fungal infection. Baby shampoo or a gentle eyelid cleanser can be helpful if you have blepharitis. Daily eyelid cleaning removes crusts, flakes, and oils that can cause symptoms. If your blepharitis symptoms are severe, your eye doctor may prescribe eye drops that reduce inflammation and irritation.

Wondering when you should call the optometrist? Let your eye doctor know if you have blurry vision, severe pain, an eye injury, or thick yellow, gray or green mucus in your eyes. It's also a good idea to call if sticky eyes last more than a week for any reason.

Are your eyes sticky and uncomfortable? Your optometrist can offer a diagnosis and recommend helpful treatments and eye care strategies. Contact our office to schedule your appointment.


American Academy of Ophthalmology: Giant Papillary Conjunctivitis, 4/27/2023


National Eye Institute: Blepharitis, 11/15/2023


All About Vision: Sticky Eyes: Causes and Treatment, 5/15/2021


American Academy of Ophthalmology: What Is Sleep Crust, 3/29/2021


Verywellhealth.com: What Causes Goopy Eyes and How to Treat Them, 7/26/2023


American Optometric Association: Conjunctivitis


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