Eye discharge is common in newborn babies and typically occurs due to a blocked tear duct. This may be treatable at home, but additional symptoms, such as yellow eye discharge, require medical attention.

Eye discharge is typically harmless and self-resolving. However, discharge that occurs alongside other symptoms in the eye area, such as swelling or tenderness, could indicate an infection or another eye problem. A parent or caregiver of a newborn with these symptoms will need to consult a doctor.

This article discusses how common eye discharge is and explains how to treat it at home. It also discusses medical treatment, other causes, possible complications, and when to contact a doctor.

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Eye discharge due to a blocked tear duct is fairly common in newborn babies. It affects at least 6% of newborns.

In some cases, eye discharge may be due to conjunctivitis. If this is the case, medical treatments may be necessary.

A doctor can help determine the cause of eye discharge, and advise on any necessary treatments or home remedies that may help.

Eye discharge in newborns is fairly common. A common cause of eye discharge is a blocked tear duct.

According to Boston Children’s Hospital, at least 6% of newborns have a blocked tear duct. This condition can occur because the end of the tear duct does not open properly when the baby is born.

Tears form in the lacrimal gland, which sits just above the eye. Tear fluid helps clean and lubricate the surface of the eye. When a person blinks, the eyelids sweep the tear fluid into these ducts, which drain it into the nose.

If something blocks a tear duct, fluid may no longer be able to drain away from the eye’s surface. Blockages can cause very watery eyes, and sticky discharge may form in the corners.

Learn more about blocked tear ducts in infants.

Eye discharge in newborns may be a sign of conjunctivitis, or pinkeye. Conjunctivitis is an inflammation of the conjunctiva, a thin membrane that protects the front of the eye.

Unlike a blocked tear duct, conjunctivitis often causes the white part of the eye to appear red.

Depending on the type of conjunctivitis, symptoms typically appear within around 1 to 12 days after birth.

Symptoms of conjunctivitis in newborns can include:

  • drainage or discharge
  • puffy or tender eyelids, often with skin discoloration
  • red, irritated eyes

Conjunctivitis in newborns can sometimes occur alongside a blocked tear duct. However, a pregnant person can also pass on a bacterial or viral infection to their baby when giving birth, leading to conjunctivitis.

Chemical irritation

Chemical irritation can also cause conjunctivitis in newborns.

Medical professionals may give eye ointment to newborns within 2 to 3 hours after the birth to prevent infections. These eye drops can sometimes cause irritation that can result in conjunctivitis symptoms.

Chemical conjunctivitis in newborns typically lasts around 24 to 36 hours.

If the eye discharge is due to a blocked tear duct, it will usually resolve on its own by the time the child is around 1 year of age.

However, wind, cold weather, and strong sunlight can also worsen symptoms, so a parent or caregiver should aim to protect a newborn’s eyes from these elements.

Clearing discharge

A parent or caregiver can often treat a newborn with a blocked tear duct at home. Before touching the area close to the child’s eyes, it is essential to wash the hands with soap and warm water to prevent infections. A person should also take care to rinse the hands thoroughly after cleaning them to avoid getting soap in the baby’s eye.

To clear away discharge, dip a clean cotton ball or soft cloth in some lukewarm water, then gently wipe the corner of the eye.

If a blocked tear duct affects both eyes, always use a new area of the cloth or cotton ball to clean the other eye.

Tearduct massage

A doctor may also recommend gently massaging the blocked tear duct 2 to 3 times per day to help it open. The doctor will demonstrate how to do this safely.

If the side of the newborn’s nose becomes red or swollen, stop the massage immediately and contact a doctor.

In newborns, blocked tear ducts tend to open up within several months of birth. However, medical intervention may be necessary in some cases.


If the blockage has not gone away by the time the baby is 1 year of age, a doctor may recommend a medical treatment called a nasolacrimal duct probing.

This procedure involves inserting a small probe into the infant’s tear duct. By using probes that gradually increase in size, a doctor will be able to open up the tear duct. They will then use a saline solution to flush out any remaining debris.

Sometimes, the doctor may also insert a small tube, or stent, into the duct to keep it open.

Probing is usually successful in opening the tear duct. For children with a severe blockage, a doctor may recommend a more complicated surgical procedure called a dacryocystorhinostomy to clear out and open the tear duct.


If an infection is causing eye discharge, the newborn will need prompt medical attention. To treat cases of infectious discharge, a doctor may prescribe antibiotics.

Blocked tear ducts can sometimes lead to an infection called dacryocystitis.

Symptoms of this condition may include:

  • excessive thick discharge from the eye
  • redness in the corner of the eye
  • a tender bump or swelling at the side of the nose
  • fever
  • fussiness or irritability

If a newborn has any of these symptoms, a parent or caregiver should consult a doctor.

If a newborn has eye discharge or very watery eyes, it is best for a parent or caregiver to speak with a pediatrician or an eye doctor specializing in children, called a pediatric ophthalmologist.

The doctor can advise on home remedies that can help. They can also determine the cause of eye discharge in case medical treatments are necessary.

Newborns with signs of an eye infection require immediate medical attention. Signs of an eye infection can include:

  • sore or puffy eyes
  • swollen eyelids
  • yellow or green pus or discharge
  • a bump or swelling on the inside corner of the eye

If a parent or caregiver notices any of these symptoms, they should contact a doctor immediately.

Here are some frequently asked questions about eye discharge in newborns.

When should I worry about a baby’s eye discharge?

If a baby’s eye discharge occurs alongside symptoms of an infection, it is important to contact a doctor. It may be an eye infection if the baby also experiences swollen eyelids. green or yellow discharge, or puffy eyes.

What should a person do if a baby has gunky eyes?

If a baby has gunky eyes, a parent or caregiver may be able to treat the symptom at home by gently wiping the area with a cotton ball or cloth and lukewarm water. However, it is important to contact a doctor, as medical treatments may be necessary if it is due to an infection or other underlying cause.

Does breast milk clear a baby’s eye discharge?

A 2021 study found that breast milk was no less effective at treating eye discharge in infants than sodium azulene sulfonate hydrate 0.02% ophthalmic solution (OS). They recommend using breast milk as eye drops for babies up to 6 months of age.

However, it is important to note that breast milk is not a sufficient treatment for eye infections or other possible causes of eye discharge. A person should contact a doctor for advice before treating a baby’s eye discharge with breast milk.

Eye discharge in newborns often results from a blocked tear duct. The blockage will usually clear up by itself by the time the child is 1 year of age.

However, newborns with eye redness or eye discharge should contact a doctor to diagnose the cause and rule out an eye infection.

Parents and caregivers can often treat a newborn’s blocked tear duct at home by wiping away any discharge and gently massaging the area. A doctor can demonstrate how to do this.

Discoloration, swelling, or soreness in the eye can indicate an eye infection. Contact a doctor immediately if an infant has these signs.