Having a wet, gloopy substance around one or both of your eyes can happen at any time. However, it’s usually something that happens during the night.
Sticky eye on waking
It is relatively common to find that you have sticky stuff in the corner of your eye or along your upper or lower eyelids in the morning. This is why it’s often referred to as having “sleep” in your eye.
This discharge is a combination of stuff that has built up on and around your eye during the day. As you sleep, it clumps together. It could contain oils from products you have used on your face, your own skin cells, dust and other debris.
Sometimes this clump dries out as you sleep, and it feels hard as you gently wash it out of the corner of your eye. If you wake to find this substance is wet and sticky, rather than like a crust, it is generally a sign that there is still liquid in the discharge.
Why this happens
Though a sticky eye can feel unpleasant, it’s a healthy part of your body’s defence systems. The eye naturally gathers and discharges foreign materials to ensure that potentially harmful substances don’t linger on the surface.
During the day, tear ducts lubricate your eye surface, washing foreign bodies away as you blink. At night, this may build up and create a sticky eye.
Having a sticky eye – or eyes – can indicate that you have a condition called conjunctivitis. This is often accompanied by red, itchy and sore eyes too. The stickiness could be so severe that it seals your eyelids in the night.
The conjunctiva is the part of the eye that creates the mucus to lubricate and clean the eyeball surface. If it’s blocked or infected, that is called conjunctivitis. It can result from various forms of infection or an allergic reaction.
As the most common strains of conjunctivitis are contagious, care needs to be taken in cleaning the eyes thoroughly and washing your hands well, to avoid it passing to other people.
A sticky eye could also indicate a blocked eyelash follicle (often resulting in a pimple called a stye). Or, it could be a mild infection from poor contact lens hygiene or an indication that your eyes are too dry due to prolonged wearing of your contact lenses. Both can interfere with your eye’s ability to cope with debris.
Medical advice needed
Though a sticky eye on waking is not necessarily a cause for concern, it’s important to consult a doctor if the discharge is considerable and frequent. Or if you have reason to believe you have conjunctivitis.
Watch out for stickiness that is abnormal in colour or continues to form during the day. It’s best to seek advice if the sticky eye also shows signs of poor vision or is painful.