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Sticky eyes in babies and toddlers

Sticky eyes occur when your baby’s tear duct gets blocked and produces a yellow discharge. Red watery eyes indicate conjunctivitis meaning their tear duct is infected and treatment is needed.

Having yellow discharge in the eyes (known as 'sticky eyes') is common in newborns and small babies.

Sticky eyes are often caused by a blocked tear duct. Usually your baby's eyes will get better on their own.

You should tell your GP or public health nurse that your baby gets sticky eyes the next time you see them. They can show you how to massage your baby's tear duct to unblock it.

Pink or red eyes is a sign that your baby may have conjunctivitis - you'll need to take them to the GP.

Related topic

Conjunctivitis in babies and children

Treatment

You'll need to clean your baby's eyes if they've become crusted and your baby has trouble opening them.

  1. Wash your hands.
  2. Wet a sterile cotton ball with saline solution.
  3. Gently wipe your baby's eye from the inside corner to the outside corner. Use a new cotton ball for each wipe.
  4. Dry the eye using a different cotton ball, wiping from the inside corner out.
  5. Wash your hands.

Your GP may give you a referral to see a specialist if your baby's eye is still sticky after 12 months.

Infection

Sometimes your baby's tear duct can become blocked and they can get an infection.

You should take your baby to the GP if:

  • their sticky eye is getting worse
  • their eye looks red and sore
  • they're rubbing their eyes a lot
  • you think they're in pain
  • they won't open their eyes
  • you think they might have conjunctivitis

Related topic

Your child’s eye health

Page last reviewed: 14/11/2018
Next review due: 14/11/2021