Q: I woke up this morning with crusty and sticky eyes. What do I do?

Answer: Nobody likes it when this happens to themselves or especially their child. Crusty sticky eyes seem to come out of nowhere and can potentially be something contagious.

As an optometrist and a mom, my recommendation is to take the following steps:

  • Look carefully at both eyes. Are both eyes irritated or just one? Are the whites of the eye(s) red?
  • Apply a warm compress to the irritated eye(s)
  • Call your eye care doctor. Explain your symptoms in detail and schedule an appointment as recommend by your doctor.

What you are trying to determine is whether you have a viral infection, a bacterial infection or neither. Viral or bacterial infections are commonly called ‘pink eye’, or conjunctivitis. If the eye(s) continue to have constant discharge, and if the whites of the eyes are red, it is likely a viral or bacterial infection. This is important to figure out because you may require a prescription and be contagious around others. On the other hand, if both eyes are sticky, irritated and gritty-feeling upon waking, you may simply be experiencing dry eyes. This is especially true if the symptoms are in both eyes rather than just one or the other. If it is dry eye, instilling a drop of artificial tears (like Refresh or Systane) in the morning along with using a warm washcloth to cleanse the eyelids and lashes will typically soothe the irritation. Dry eye is also a common eye condition that can be treated by your eye care doctor.

So, before you head off to work or send your child to school, give your eye care doctor a call to be sure you, your spouse or your child do not have a contagious eye condition. You can never be too safe, and your work colleagues and fellow parents will thank you.

Dr. Vanessa Mills is an optometrist at Providence Eye & Laser Specialists who is trained to treat eye issues such as pink eye and dry eye. She is available for annual eye exams and is currently accepting new general eye care patients over the age of eight.