Ever wake up from a nice nap or a great sleep to find little white crusties in the corner of your eyes? Sometimes, they might even be slimy! But what are those things and why do we find them?
What are Eye Crusties aka Dream dust aka Rheum aka Sleep?
When I was little, one of my friends told me that those little white/yellowish crusties were called ‘dream dust’ and we got them because the Sandman wanted us to have nice dreams. So for years, that’s what I’ve been referring to them as, though I was almost 100% sure the reasoning wasn’t on par.
When I started looking into this, I found that the real name for the eye crusties actually is Sleep, but the scientific umbrella term for it is Rheum. Sleep is a type of Rheum, which in turn is simply discharged mucous. You might remember seeing the term rheum on Benylin bottles, or other cough and cold syrups, for the French translation. The term sleep just refers to the rheum that is discharged when one is sleeping. Fitting, I’d say.
But sleep does include the discharge from your nose and mouth while you’re sleeping as well. There is a specific term for the mucous that is discharged from our eyes while we sleep: gound. Gound is mainly composed of an oil produced by a sebaceous gland that line our eyelids, mucous, and some other particles like dust and skin cells. We actually produce gound during the day, but we blink it away which doesn’t give it the chance to clump.
Main point: eye crusties = mucous discharge.
Why does it happen?
Mucous likes to help our bodies protect themselves against infectious diseases. So the discharge of mucous from our eyes while we sleep might just be our eyes protecting themselves from infections; the mucous usually carries away the harmful agents, be it makeup or bacteria, towards the corners of our eyes (known as the inner canthi and the outer canthi).
If you have a cold or the flu, you are more likely to produce gound to excrete the bacteria that are making you sick. If you don’t take off your makeup before you go to bed, you’re likely to produce a lot of gound too.
On its own, these discharges of mucous shouldn’t be too alarming. But if they are coupled with other symptoms involving the eye, such as inflammation or visual changes, they can indicate more worrying conditions such as Conjunctivitis or a corneal ulcer. Consult with your physician if there are multiple symptoms.
Sometimes, the excessive production of gound can lead to your eyes being glued shut. In this case, it is best to place a warm washcloth on your eyes to loosen them. Just make sure to dispose or wash the washcloth thoroughly, since reusing it can just bring those harmful agents back into your eyes!
And that’s really all there is to say about eye crusties. Now you’ll know that they’re proof that your body wants you to stay healthy!
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Hiskey, D. 2011. What the ‘sleep’ in your eyes is. TodayIFoundOut.com. <http://www.todayifoundout.com/index.php/2011/02/what-the-sleep-in-your-eyes-is/>. August 27, 2013.
IMG Health Publications. 2013. Eye discharge. EyeHealthWeb.com. <http://www.eyehealthweb.com/eye-discharge/>. August 27, 2013.