Causes and treatment of eye discharge in toddlers

Causes and treatment of eye discharge in toddlers

For several reasons, a toddler may have discharge coming from their eye. The trigger is relatively harmless in most cases, such as a clogged tear duct or a viral infection.

Any eye pain or discharge, however, that makes it hard to see can be distressing. It warrants a doctor’s visit if it does not go away on its own.

We explore the causes and treatment of eye discharge in a toddler in this Symptomsarticle and explain when to see a doctor.


eye discharge in toddlers

Depending on the cause, eye discharge symptoms differ. The only symptom that a parent or caregiver notices is discharge, often.

If other signs are present, the child is more likely to have an infection or an object in his or her eye. Some symptoms to watch for include:

  • eye pain
  • constant eye rubbing
  • being unwilling or unable to open the eye
  • eye swelling
  • swelling of the face
  • red streaks coming out of the eye


For various causes, a toddler can have mucus or discharge that comes from their eye.

Normal eye discharge

Eyes that are healthy contain mucus.

Parents or caregivers may notice dried or sticky mucus in the corner of the child ‘s eye. It may appear green, yellow , white, or clear.

Often, when a child rubs them with dirty hands or has an eyelash in their eye, the eyes create more mucus.

The discharge is likely to be normal if the mucus occurs only in the morning or after bedtime.

However, if it does not go away by itself, it gets worse, or the toddler complains of a sore eye, it may have another cause.


Also known as pinkeye, conjunctivitis causes the tissue that lines the eyes in becoming red, painful, and inflamed.

Viral infection

The most common cause of pinkeye is a viral infection. Usually, viral pinkeye develops in both eyes.

An eye that is infected can look red and swollen. While a bacterial infection can cause the eye to ooze pus, this is unlikely with a viral infection.

In 2–3 weeks, viral conjunctivitis normally goes away on its own.

Bacterial infection

When infectious bacteria enters the eye, a bacterial infection occurs , causing an infection.

One of the most common bacterial eye infections is bacterial conjunctivitis, which is a kind of pinkeye. It can occur in one or both eyes.

The eye can be sore and swollen, and it can turn red in the whites of the eyes. The eye can water a lot and produce mucus that is green or yellow.

Although some cases of bacterial conjunctivitis go away on their own, to treat the infection, some toddlers require antibiotics.

Blocked tear duct

A blocked tear duct means one or more tear ducts are unable to drain easily.

In young babies, this is normal, but some toddlers may also have blockages. It may look watery to the eye, as if the child were crying.

The tear duct can be infected if the eye becomes red or irritated.

Object in the eye

Any object that gets into the eye can cause it to water and feel irritated. The object could be a speck of dust, an eyelash, or something larger, such as a piece of glass.

A child may not want to open their eyes or may complain that something in their eye feels like it is. The eye may become infected if the object is large or scratches the eye.


A severe infection of the deep layers of skin in and around the eye is cellulitis.

It may spread to other parts of the body without treatment and can even threaten the vision of a toddler.

It can be very painful, red, and swollen in the eye. Some parents and caregivers notice cellulitis following a stye or other eye infection.

They can see red streaks coming out of their eyes as well. A watery eye or trouble seeing may be present in the infant, or the eye may feel hot. Cellulitis causes a fever in some situations.

Anyone who suspects cellulitis in their toddler should speak to a doctor as soon as possible.


A stye is a swollen, painful lump that may look like a pimple. Stye symptoms, such as eye pain and swelling, occasionally appear before the pimple will become visible.

Styes happen when a hair follicle on the eyelid becomes infected. It may cause discharge in the eye when the stye oozes or pops.

On their own, most styes go away, but some become infected or transform into a hard lump called a chalazion.


Depending on the cause of the eye discharge, the form of treatment may vary.

If there is something small in the eye of the baby, a person may attempt to gently rub the closed eye in the direction of the nose. It is necessary to see a doctor when there is a big object in the eye or it is difficult to remove the object.

Warm compresses also alleviate symptoms of blocked tear ducts and styes. This can signify a more serious issue, such as an infection, if warm compresses do not help.

A doctor may recommend:

  • antibiotics for bacterial infections
  • steroids for viral infections or allergic reactions that do not go away
  • surgery for a blocked tear duct that does not clear on its own


Some strategies to prevent eye discharge in a toddler include:

  • making sure that they wash their hands frequently to avoid spreading possible infection
  • encouraging the toddler only to touch their eyes with clean hands
  • avoiding getting lotion or other skin products in their eyes
  • keeping their eyes and face clean
  • ensuring that they wear eye protection during any activities that might injure the eye
  • keeping the toddler with an eye infection home from school

When to see a doctor

It is probably safe to wait a few days to see if symptoms clear on their own.

However, if the toddler is in extreme pain, the eye is very swollen, the toddler has a fever, or the eye is obviously physically injured, it is necessary to see a doctor.

If the symptoms do not improve with home care, symptoms get worse, or any of the following appears, people may also need to take a toddler to see a doctor:

  • a very red or swollen eye or eyelid
  • the inability to open the eye
  • intense eye pain
  • fever
  • red streaks coming out of the eye

Immediate medical care is necessary if:

  • there is a large object in the eye
  • the eye is bleeding
  • the toddler has symptoms of cellulitis, such as a very swollen, red eye and a fever


Eye discharge is a common issue for toddlers, who may touch their eyes with dirty hands, spreading irritants, viruses , and bacteria.

With home care, the discharge normally gets better.

Parents or caregivers, however, should seek treatment immediately if the toddler has extreme eye pain or if the symptoms do not resolve on their own.

The eyes are sensitive, and a person’s sight may be threatened by severe infections.