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How to manage crusty eyes in the morning

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At-home cureCausesTreatmentsSummary
While you are sleeping, a mixture of mucus, skin cells, and tears can build up in your eyes and form a harmless, hard, crusty substance. But an excess of eye crust may also be a sign of an eye infection.
Medically reviewed by Jenna Stoddard, OD, FAAO
Updated on April 4, 2023

Eye crust, also called eye gunk or rheum, is common and usually not a cause of concern.

But certain eye conditions, like infections, may cause enhanced production of mucus and oils from the meibomian glands in your eyelids.

These products typically keep your eyes hydrated, but during an infection, your glands may start producing more mucus. This can cause a larger buildup of crust in your eyes. It may particularly occur during the night when you do not blink.

What is the most effective treatment for crusty eyes?

A person in bed with their hands over their face.
Westend61/Getty Images

If crusty eyes are the only symptom you are experiencing when you wake up, here are some methods suggested by the American Academy of Ophthalmology that may help improve your condition:

  1. Wash your hands.
  2. With a clean washcloth and warm water, gently press or hold the cloth onto the eye.
  3. Wait a couple of minutes to let the crust dissolve in the warm water. Do not rip the crusts away from the eye.
  4. If your eyes feel dry and gritty after you have gently wiped them, use eye drops for rehydration.

If your symptoms worsen or you experience any other symptoms, you should contact your doctor.

Causes of crusty eyes in the morning

Crusts may appear around your eyes for natural reasons, and they will typically not need any treatment, but sometimes there may be an infection.

Natural causes

Our eyes produce a substance that contains a mix of mucus and oils to keep themselves moist and protected. Due to the lack of blinking during sleep, the substances can build up and form a crust in the corner of your eyes. This can sometimes make it difficult to open your eyes when you first wake up.

This is quite common and will not typically need medical attention.

People with allergies may also experience an increased buildup of this substance during certain periods of the year. Pollen and other allergens may cause this reaction.

Pink eye (conjunctivitis)

A bacterial or viral infection can cause conjunctivitis. This can involve one or both eyes.

In some cases, an allergic reaction or other environmental factors can also cause conjunctivitis.

If you have conjunctivitis, you may experience:

  • eye crusts
  • water buildup between your eyelids
  • watery discharge from your eye
  • eye redness


Blepharitis, also known as eyelid inflammation, typically occurs in both eyes, and on rare occasions, may only involve one eye.

The exact causes of blepharitis are unclear, but experts believe a number of factors may cause blepharitis. These include the presence of bacteria on the eyelids, simultaneous inflammatory skin conditions, and insufficient moistening oil production.

If you have blepharitis, you may experience symptoms including:

  • eye crusts
  • dry or watery eyes
  • light sensitivity
  • burning or stinging sensation in the eyes
  • eyelids stuck together
  • eye redness
  • itchy eyes
  • foamy tears
  • presence of skin flakes at the base of the eyelids

Dry eyes

People with occasional or chronic dry eye may experience a buildup of stringy mucus and crusts that may feel gritty or sticky.

If you have dry eyes you may experience:

  • eye crusts
  • blurred vision, in particular, while reading
  • stinging or burning sensation in the eyes
  • itchy eyes
  • eye redness
  • tear buildup in the eyes

Blocked tear ducts

Blocked tear ducts may prevent tears from successfully draining from the eyes, causing a buildup of mucus that usually gathers in the corners of the eyes. This may appear as small, yellow, or white balls.

A blocked tear duct may lead to an infection called dacryocystitis. This may cause the following symptoms:

  • eye crusts
  • blurred vision
  • a high temperature
  • recurrent eye infections
  • blood tinged tears
  • swelling in the inside corner of your eye and in the nose


Styes, also called hordeolum, is an acute painful infection that involves the upper or bottom eyelid. It often appears as a pimple and is the result of a follicle or oil gland infection in your eyelid. The infection may cause a buildup of yellow mucus in the corners of the infected eye that can form eye crusts.

While a stye can go away on its own within a week, the infection may require medical treatment. This is usually in the form of an ointment coupled with the application of a warm compress.

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Other causes

Regularly wearing contact lenses may increase eye dryness and lead to a higher risk of developing inflammation and eye infections.

A weakened immune system, underlying eye conditions, and eye trauma may also heighten the risk of infection from fungal keratitis. Symptoms include eye pain and redness, light sensitivity, and a buildup of crusts.


Doctors treat eye conditions depending on their cause. The following table outlines some of the possible treatments for certain eye conditions, but it’s by no means a comprehensive list. Talk with your doctor about your specific condition and treatment.

Conjunctivitismedicated eye drops

antihistamines if you have allergic conjunctivitis

antibiotics if you have bacterial conjunctivitis
Blepharitistopical antibiotics

antibiotic eye drops
Dry eyeartificial tear eye drops

surgical options that temporarily block the tear ducts to help retain tears
Blocked tear ductantibiotics if an infection is causing the blockage

surgery to remove an obstruction or create a new tear duct
Styewarm compresses for 15 minutes, at least 4 times per day

topical antibiotics

corticosteroid injections

surgical removal or drainage
Fungal infectionantifungal medications

if the infection doesn’t respond to the treatment, a doctor may recommend surgical options

If you are concerned about your eye health, you should contact your eye doctor for advice.


Finding a little eye crust in the morning is common and not a cause for concern. But if you notice redness, a burning sensation, or discomfort, you may have an infection.

Your eye doctor can examine your eyes and make a diagnosis. They can also recommend the most effective treatment to improve your symptoms.

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