What Causes Yellow Discharge From Eyes?

Reviewed on 3/15/2021

Eye infection

Yellow discharge from the eyes is your body trying to fight an infections. This may be caused by chemicals in your eyes, extended contact lense use, irritant in your eye, fungi, parasites and amoebas.
Yellow discharge from the eyes is your body trying to fight an infections. This may be caused by chemicals in your eyes, extended contact lense use, irritant in your eye, fungi, parasites and amoebas.

Your eyes, like every other organ in your body, can become infected by bacteria, fungus, or viruses. When an infection happens, your eyes react in various ways as your body tries to fight it. Mucus, pus, or other types of discharge can leak from your eye. Sometimes, the discharge is yellow. 

Learn what causes your eyes to discharge yellow mucus, how to recognize it, and what doctors do to treat it.

What Is yellow discharge from an eye?

If your eye is discharging yellow mucus, it is usually a sign of an infection. The discharge consists of dead white blood cells, dead viruses or bacteria, and tears.

Symptoms of eye infection

Yellow discharge is a symptom of conjunctivitis. If you have an eye infection, you’ll see a variety of symptoms. There are several types of eye infections, with symptoms that are similar to each other. You might experience:

Types of eye infections

There are three types of eye infections. Viruses cause viral eye infections and are contagious. Bacteria can get into your eyes and cause infections and are very contagious. Allergies can cause a third type of eye infection and are not contagious.

Causes of yellow discharge

When an infection is in an eye, the transparent layer in the eye called the conjunctiva becomes irritated. The eye can feel dry, scratched, or as if there is something in it, so the tear ducts begin to release more tears.

Your body sends white blood cells to the eye to begin fighting the infection. As the white blood cells kill the bacteria — or the bacteria kill white blood cells — pus forms from the tears, dead cells, and dead bacteria.

The discharge can happen when you’re awake or asleep. If you’re awake, you’ll notice it on the corner of your eyes or your eyelashes after you blink. If you’re sleeping, you usually wake up with dried discharge on your eyelashes and in the corners of your eyes. If this happens, you may not be able to open your eyes because the crusty discharge is holding the eyelashes together.

There are many causes of eye irritations that can lead to infections. Some of them are: 

  • Chemicals in your eyes
  • Contact lenses that are worn too long
  • Something in your eye that irritates it
  • Fungi that get into your eye
  • Parasites and amoebas

When to see the doctor for yellow discharge

Yellow discharge means you have an eye infection. If the infection is viral or due to allergies, it will usually go away by itself. If bacteria have caused it, the infection needs to be treated by a doctor because it can lead to a more severe infection or eye damage. Still,  you can’t tell which one you have, so a doctor needs to diagnose it.

If you have an eye infection, you need to see your doctor immediately so that they can test the discharge to know if it’s viral, bacterial, or allergic.


 

Diagnosing an eye infection

When you see your doctor, they will ask you questions about your medical history, looking for allergies, immunodeficiencies, or a history of infections. They will ask about the circumstances that lead up to the infection and are likely to look into your eye with bright light and magnification to evaluate your eye and check your vision.

If necessary, doctors can take a sample of the discharge to have it tested. The tests tell them what caused it and help them determine a course of treatment. 

Treatments for yellow discharge

If allergies cause your eye infection, the doctor will most likely try to flush the irritating cause from your eye. Sometimes, they might give you eye drops to keep the fluid running through your eyes to help flush them. 

If needed, they can provide you with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication or prescribe cool compresses for the inflammation. An antihistamine might be prescribed to reduce the histamines the body produces — which cause the itching.

For a bacterial eye infection, you have to receive a regimen of antibiotics to kill the infection. Doctors will usually prescribe antibiotic eye drops or ointments you put in your eye. You might see improvement after a few days, but you’ll likely be prescribed a full week of antibiotics, and it’s important to complete the entire regimen.

A viral infection must run its course, like the flu or other viruses that get in your body. The eye infection could resolve in a few days or could take a few weeks.

If you’ve accidentally gotten chemicals in your eyes, such as some household cleaners, they can cause irritation and discharge as well. It is critical to flush your eyes thoroughly with water and immediately go to the emergency room if this happens. Many chemicals can cause eye damage and need to be appropriately treated to prevent it. 

SLIDESHOW

Pink Eye (Conjunctivitis) Symptoms, Causes, Treatments See Slideshow

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References
SOURCES:

American Academy of Ophthalmology: "Inflammation."

American Optometric Association: "Conjunctivitis (pink eye)."

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Conjunctivitis (Pink Eye): Causes."

National Center for Biotechnology Information: "Viral Conjunctivitis."

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