Where Do Eye Boogers Come From?

Sleepies. Crusties. Eye boogers. They’re a common (if minor) part of just about everybody’s day. So where do they come from?

My parents always told me that the Sandman came around and helped people fall asleep… and the stuff attached to your eyelashes the next morning was extra sand. Thank goodness I never tried to save Sandman sand up for sleepless nights!

One official name for eye boogers is rheum. Rheum is the natural discharge of the eye, formed from a combination of mucus, tears, dust, and even skin cells from the eyelids.

The eye produces rheum all day… so why does it build up overnight? When we’re awake, blinking washes rheum and tears away so we don’t get a buildup of sleepies. But when we’re asleep, we don’t blink. Rheum can build up along the eyelashes or in the corner of the eye. The presence of eye boogers isn’t usually cause for alarm — everybody gets them.

Dealing with crusties in the eyes is relatively easy. Adults and older children can wipe them away with clean fingers or a clean washcloth and water. Younger children might need help cleaning up the eye boogers to prevent accidental eye damage. Younger children also tend to have more eye booger buildup than older children and adults, so they might need extra help just to get it all cleared away.

When are eye boogers a sign of something wrong? If you experience a large amount of crust (like your eyelashes are glued shut) or if there is pus in the discharge. Either of these symptoms can indicate eye problems like conjunctivitis or dry eye.

One thing I find interesting is all the different names for the phenomenon. These days I call them “eye goobies”, but when I was little they were Sandman sand. I found more than one forum discussion around the web talking about the proper name for sleepies (sleep/sleepers/sleepies seems to be the most popular name if Wikipedia is to be believed). Some of my favorite weird name suggestions include “crusty pups” and “fairy dust”.

So… what do you call your eye boogers?

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