Crusty eyes in children can be a cause of concern for many parents. Waking up to find their child’s eyes sealed shut with dried discharge can be alarming. 

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll delve into the various factors contributing to crusty eyes in children, when to seek medical attention, preventive measures, and treatment options.

What are crusty eyes in children?

Crusty eyes in children refers to a common condition where dried discharge accumulates around the eyes, particularly during sleep. The crusty residue may cause the eyelids to stick together, making it difficult for the child to open their eyes upon waking.

This discharge, often referred to as “sleep crust” or “eye gunk,” can vary in consistency and color, ranging from thin and clear to thick and yellowish-green. 

It is typically composed of mucus, oil, skin cells, and other debris that collect in the corners of the eyes or along the eyelashes.

What causes crusty eyes in children?

In most cases, crusty eyes are benign and resolve on their own once the eyes are gently wiped clean. However, persistent or recurrent crusty eyes may indicate an underlying issue, such as the following:

  1. Allergies

When allergens come into contact with the eyes, they can cause inflammation of the conjunctiva (the thin membrane covering the white part of the eye), leading to excessive tearing and the production of sticky discharge that can crust over during sleep.

Some examples of allergens that can trigger an allergic reaction and cause sleep crusts include:

  • Pollen
  • Pet dander
  • Dust mites
  • Mold spores
  • Insect bites
  1. Infections

Bacterial or viral infections, such as conjunctivitis (commonly known as pink eye), can cause redness, itching, and thick, yellow or green discharge that crusts over the eyelids. 

Infections are often highly contagious and can spread easily among children, particularly in daycare centers or schools.

  1. Poor hygiene

Touching the eyes with dirty hands or using contaminated towels can introduce bacteria, viruses, and other pathogens into the eyes, increasing the risk of infection and crust formation.

  1. Environmental irritants

Exposure to environmental irritants such as smoke, pollution, or chemicals can irritate the eyes, leading to increased tear production and the formation of crusty residue. 

  1. Blocked tear ducts

In some cases, crusty eyes may be caused by blocked tear ducts, which prevent tears from draining properly from the eyes. This can lead to the accumulation of tears and mucus in the corners of the eyes, resulting in crust formation.

When should you seek medical attention?

While crusty eyes are often harmless and resolve on their own, certain signs indicate a need for medical attention. 

If your child experiences persistent redness, swelling, pain, or vision changes, it’s important to consult a physician promptly. These symptoms may indicate a more serious underlying condition that requires treatment.

Other red flag symptoms to watch out for include thick, yellow or green eye discharge, fever, vision changes, and light sensitivity. 

What are the treatment options for crusty eyes?

The treatment options for crusty eyes in children depend on the condition’s underlying cause. Here are some common approaches:

  1. Good hygiene practices

Practicing good hygiene is essential for managing and preventing crusty eyes. Encourage your child to wash their hands regularly, especially before touching their face or eyes. 

Use a clean, damp cloth to gently wipe away crusts and discharge from the eyes, particularly upon waking in the morning. Avoid rubbing the eyes, as this can introduce bacteria and irritants, exacerbating the issue.

  1. Warm compress

Applying warm compresses to the eyes can help soften crusts and promote drainage of discharge. Soak a clean washcloth in warm water, wring out excess moisture, and place it over your child’s closed eyes for several minutes.

  1. Over-the-counter eye drops

Over-the-counter (OTC) artificial tears or lubricating eye drops can help alleviate dryness and irritation associated with crusty eyes.

  1. Antibiotic eye drops or ointments.

Your pediatric eye doctor may prescribe antibiotic eye drops or ointments to help clear the infection. It’s important to use these medications as directed and complete the full course of treatment, even if symptoms improve before the medication is finished.

  1. Antihistamines or allergy medications

If allergies contribute to your child’s crusty eyes, your healthcare provider may recommend antihistamine eye drops or oral allergy medications to help alleviate symptoms.

  1. Surgical intervention

In rare cases where crusty eyes are caused by a structural issue, such as blocked tear ducts, surgical intervention may be necessary to address the underlying problem. 

Procedures such as tear duct probing or dilation can help open blocked tear ducts and restore normal tear drainage, reducing the risk of recurrent crusty eyes.

How to prevent crusty eyes in children?

Preventing crusty eyes in children involves implementing a combination of preventive measures and good hygiene habits, such as: 

  • Encourage your child to wash their hands regularly, especially before touching their face or eyes. 
  • Teach them to avoid rubbing their eyes, as this can introduce bacteria and irritants into the eyes, leading to inflammation and crust formation.
  • Create a clean sleep environment. Make sure your child’s bedding, pillowcases, and stuffed animals are washed regularly to remove dust and allergens. Consider using hypoallergenic bedding and pillows to minimize exposure to potential irritants.
  • Keep indoor air clean by using a HEPA filter or air purifier.
  • If your child has allergies, work with their doctor to develop a comprehensive allergy management plan.

Lastly, regular eye exams are also important for monitoring your child’s eye health and detecting any potential issues early on. 

Schedule routine eye exams with an optometrist or ophthalmologist to ensure your child’s eyes are healthy and functioning properly.

Where to find a pediatric eye doctor near me?

At Pediatric Eye Associates, we pride ourselves on being the premier provider of comprehensive eye care for children. 

With a team of highly skilled pediatric ophthalmologists, optometrists, and dedicated staff, we are committed to ensuring the lifelong vision health of your child. From routine eye exams to complex surgical procedures, we deliver the highest standard of care tailored to the unique needs of children. 

When it comes to your child’s vision health, trust Pediatric Eye Associates to provide compassionate, expert care that you can rely on. 

Contact us today and get in touch with the best pediatric eye doctor in New Jersey. 

The material contained on this site is for informational purposes only and DOES NOT CONSTITUTE THE PROVIDING OF MEDICAL ADVICE, and is not intended to be a substitute for independent professional medical judgment, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your health.