A toddler can have discharge coming from their eye for many reasons. Common causes include a clogged tear duct or viral infection. Issues that cause discharge often go away on their own, but some may need medical treatment.

Any eye pain or discharge that makes it difficult to see can be distressing. If discharge does not go away on its own, an individual should consult with a healthcare professional.

This article discusses the causes and treatment of eye discharge in a toddler and explains when to see a doctor.

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Eye discharge symptoms vary depending on the cause. Sometimes, the only sign that a parent or caregiver notices is discharge.

If there are other symptoms, it is more likely that the toddler has an infection or an object in their 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 on the skin around the eye

A toddler can have mucus or discharge coming from their eye for several reasons.

Normal eye discharge

Healthy eyes produce mucus or discharge that can be watery.

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.

Sometimes, the eyes produce more mucus or discharge when a toddler rubs them with dirty hands or gets an eyelash in their eye.

The discharge is probably normal if the discharge only appears in the morning or after sleep.

However, it may have another cause if it does not go away on its own, it gets worse, or the toddler complains of a painful eye.


Conjunctivitis, also known as pink eye, causes the tissue that lines the eyes to become red, painful, and inflamed.

Viral infection

A viral infection is the most common cause of pinkeye. Viral pinkeye usually presents in both eyes.

An affected eye may look red and swollen. While a bacterial infection can cause the eye to ooze pus, have mucus discharge, or have water discharge, this is less likely with a viral infection.

Viral conjunctivitis usually goes away on its own within 3 weeks.

Bacterial infection

A bacterial infection occurs when harmful bacteria get into the eye, causing an infection.

Bacterial conjunctivitis, which is a type of pinkeye, is one of the most common bacterial eye infections. It can present in one or both eyes.

The eye may be sore and swollen, and the whites of the eyes may turn red. The eye may water a lot and produce green or yellow mucus.

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

Read more about bacterial and viral pink eye.

Blocked tear duct

A blocked tear duct means that one or more tear ducts cannot easily drain.

This is common in young babies, but some toddlers may also have blockages. The eye may look watery, as though the toddler is crying.

If the eye becomes red or irritated, the tear duct may be infected.

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 toddler may not want to open their eyes or might complain that it feels as though something is in their eye. If the object is large or scratches the eye, the eye can become infected.

A parent or caregiver should seek medical attention for the toddler if this occurs.


Cellulitis is a serious infection of the deep layers of tissues in and around the eye.

Without treatment, it can spread to other areas of the body and may even threaten a toddler’s sight.

The eye may be very painful, red, and swollen. Some parents and caregivers notice cellulitis following a stye or other eye infection.

They may also see red streaks surrounding the eye. The toddler may have a watery eye, mucus, or trouble seeing, or the eye may feel hot. In some cases, cellulitis causes a fever.

Anyone who suspects their toddler has cellulitis should speak with a healthcare professional as soon as possible.


A stye is a painful, red lump that may look like a pimple. Stye symptoms, such as eye pain and swelling, sometimes appear before the pimple becomes noticeable.

Styes happen when a hair follicle on the eyelid becomes infected. When the stye oozes or pops, it can cause discharge in the eye.

Most styes go away on their own, but some turn into a hard lump called a chalazion. Chalzions may also occur on their own due to clogged oil glands on the eyelid.

The type of treatment will depend on the cause of the eye discharge.

If something small is in the toddler’s eye, a person can use saline water to gently irrigate the eye. When there is a large object in the eye, or it is impossible to remove the object, it is important to consult a healthcare professional.

Warm compresses often ease symptoms of styes and blocked tear ducts. If warm compresses do not help, this may signal a more serious problem, such as an infection.

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 avoid touching their eyes
  • 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

It is usually safe to wait a few days to see whether symptoms clear on their own.

However, it is important to contact a healthcare professional if the toddler is in intense pain, the eye is very swollen, the toddler has a fever, or there is an obvious physical injury to the eye. A parent or caregiver may also want to speak with a healthcare professional if the toddler experiences apparent vision problems.

People will also need to take a toddler to a healthcare professional if the symptoms do not improve with home treatment, the symptoms get worse, or any of the following appears:

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

The following are answers to questions people frequently ask about eye discharge in toddlers.

Why are my toddler’s eyes stuck together in the morning?

If a toddler’s eyes are stuck together in the morning, it may be due to discharge from a cold, allergies, or an infection.

Can a cold cause eye discharge in toddlers?

Yes, a cold can cause eye discharge. Viral eye infections, which can cause eye discharge, are common with colds.

Can my toddler go to school with eye discharge?

Small amounts of eye discharge in the corner of the eyes, especially in the morning, are normal. However, if there are large amounts of discharge or it is persistent, this may be a sign of an infection. If a toddler has an infection, they may need to be kept home from school. A parent or caregiver may want to consult with a healthcare professional.

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

The discharge usually gets better with home treatment.

However, parents or caregivers should seek help straightaway if the toddler is experiencing serious eye pain or if symptoms do not improve on their own.