By Eyecare NG

Overview   |  Causes   |   Prevention   |  Treatment   


Tearing and discharge are common eye symptoms. Sometimes, they occur under normal conditions. For instance, it is normal for our eyes to tear when we yawn, laugh or cry. When we sleep, light milky discharge may drain from our eyes and collect at the inner corners of our eyes. This is caused by the increased microbial activities that take place when the eyes are closed for a prolonged period of time during sleep. The accumulation of mucus, epithelial cells and other debris which ordinarily should have been cleared and washed away by blinking is also a contributing factor.

If a lot of tears and discharge drain from your eyes, particularly if the colour of the discharge is greenish yellow, you may have an eye condition that requires the attention of an eye doctor.

Causes of Eye Discharges and Tearing

Conjunctivitis: This is the inflammation of the membrane lining the white part of the eye and inner surfaces of the eyelid. There are different types of conjunctivitis but the ones that readily cause discharges are bacterial conjunctivitis, viral conjunctivitis and allergic conjunctivitis.

Blepharitis: This is the inflammation of the lid margins caused by some bacteria and sometimes by eye mites that colonise eyelashes. The discharges here appear as white crustings on the eyes lashes along with swollen, red, and itchy eyelid margins.

Stye: Stye is a localised boil-like swelling on the eyelid. It results from blocked, infected meibomian gland ducts of the eyelids. Discharge from stye is yellowish in colour. Stye sometimes resolves on its own.

Dacryocystitis: This is an inflammation and infection of the lacrimal sac. It results from a blocked tear duct (punctum). It presents as a swollen red bump below the lower lid close to the nose. Discharge from the bump is usually yellowish green. Other symptoms associated with dacryocystitis include tearing, pain and sticky lids.

Dry eye syndrome: This is the commonest cause of tearing. It occurs as a result of insufficient blinking, meibomian gland dysfunction and /or poor tear quality. The drying out of the front surface of the eyes which occurs in this condition causes over-secretion of the lacrimal gland responsible for the production of tears. Burning and tearing are the most prominent symptoms associated with dry eyes.

Eye injury and foreign body: Eye injury and foreign body in the eye causes irritation and discomfort and this results in the stimulation of the tear gland and over-secretion of tears. In addition to tearing, the eye is also red and painful.

Corneal abrasion and ulcer: When the cornea is scratched, the fine nerve endings get irritated causing severe pain and tearing. If a corneal abrasion gets infected, a corneal ulcer may occur. Corneal ulcers cause pains, watering and discharges that may be yellowish green or whitish in colour.

Contact lens-related watering and discharge: Discharges due to contact lens wear is usually a result of poor lens care and hygiene as well as allergic reaction to the contact lens solution.

Prevention of Tearing and Discharge

  • Maintain good hygiene at all times. Wash your hands regularly.
  • Avoid rubbing the eyes so as not to introduce disease-causing organisms into your eyes.
  • Avoid/minimize exposure to all know allergens like pollen and smoke.
  • Wear protective eyewear such as goggles and wrap around glasses if you anticipate exposure to dust and breeze.
  • Take good care of your contact lenses and follow your doctor’s recommendations with regards to the handling, use, storage and replacement schedule.
  • Do not wash your contact lenses with water. Use only solutions recommended by your eye care practitioner.
  • If you use the computer for prolonged periods, try to blink often and rest your eyes periodically.
  • Use room humidifiers if the weather is dry.
  • See your eye doctor if you have eye discharge that gets worse or does not resolve with 24 hours.
  • Use only drops recommended by your eye doctor. Never patronize quacks.

Treatment for Discharges and Tearing

  • Treatment for discharges and tearing is targeted at the condition responsible for them.
  • If you have discharge due to an infection, medications such as antibiotics and antivirals (in the form of drops, ointments and sometimes tablets) may be prescribed by your doctor.
  • If the discharge is due to dry eyes, lubricating drops and ointments may be prescribed. Your eye doctor may also recommend other treatment options like the use of punctal plugs.
  • For allergies, anti-allergic eye drops or tablets are prescribed.
  • For contact lens-induced tearing and discharges, your eye doctor may change your contact lens solution, adjust your contact lens use and replacement regimen or may recommend that you discontinue the use of contact lenses.