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Baby rubbing eyes

Why does my baby always have watery or sticky eyes?

Many babies develop sticky eyes and it is quite normal for them to have a yellowish, sticky substance in the corner of the eyes, which can sometimes be quite crusty or flaky, especially after sleeping.

The tear ducts from the corners of the eyes to the nose are usually narrower in newborn babies. They can be slightly blocked, causing accumulation of tears in the corners of the eyes, making them watery. When the tears dry, the eyes will look sticky. If it is not excessive, this condition can be normal.

Sticky eyes on their own aren’t necessarily a problem. However, parents may be concerned that their baby has an eye infection.

How do I clean my baby’s sticky eye?

If your baby does develop sticky eyes they can be cleaned very gently with cotton wool and sterilised water – water that has been boiled and then allowed to cool.

First, you need to clean your hands and get some clean cotton buds and the cool boiled water. Soak a cotton bud in cool boiled water to gently clean your baby’s eye, from the corner of the eye near the nose to the outer side of his eye.

Use a new cotton bud for each cleaning, and repeat until the eyes are clean.

Make sure when cleaning eyes that you tip baby’s head towards the eye being cleaned. This ensures that water does not trickle across the bridge of the nose into the other eye, and prevents cross-contamination in case there is an infection present.

If the skin around the eye, the eyelid or the eyes themselves look red or sore then it is best to see your GP or public health nurse for further examination.

When to take your baby to see the doctor or public health nurse

  • If the discharge becomes more severe
  • If the discharge becomes yellow or green in colour
  • If the baby’s eye itself is looking red or irritated
  • If there is any swelling

Any of these symptoms may mean there is an infection. You should then take your baby to visit your doctor as soon as possible.

Most babies will have outgrown this condition by around six months. If the condition persists after that, you should consider asking your doctor about getting a referral to an eye specialist.

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