How Do Eye Boogers Form
When you wake up in the morning and look into your bathroom mirror, do you ever see something floating around in your eye? If so, that “something” is probably an eye bogey or a black dot. We call these things eye boogers because they are usually composed of mucus. They’re also called goobers, which refers to their shape. Usually, they float just above the eyelid margin on the white part of the eyeball (the cornea).
The word boogie comes from the Dutch word bouwje meaning “plug,” referring to the tiny plugs that form at the end of a piece of cotton candy. The name may come from the fact that some people believe that if you put a finger in front of one’s face, it will resemble a plug-like object at the end of a string. Another theory states that the first boogies were formed by children who sucked on lollipops or other candies, causing them to become lodged in the throat and nose [sources: Mayo Clinic; National Library of Medicine].
Most eye boogies start off as liquid and then dry up as they move toward the eyelids. Once dried, however, they sometimes cause irritation. This happens because the drying causes the outer layers of the skin over the eyelashes to separate from the eyelash follicles below, making them more vulnerable to rubbing against the delicate skin of the eyelid. Because of this, we often use moisturizers to help keep our upper lids smooth and soft.
While many people think that only adults get eye boogies, kids can too — especially those who eat lots of sugary snacks. Kids with allergies may develop more frequent eye boogies than others, while young children may be more likely to suffer from seasonal eye boogies. These flulike symptoms occur during cold and allergy seasons due to pollen.
In addition, eye boogies may result from infections like conjunctivitis, trachoma and herpes simplex virus infection. People who work in dusty environments might also experience eye problems like eye boogies. Dust particles get inside the body through the respiratory system. When dust gets into the lungs, the body releases chemicals called proteases that break down proteins. One of these enzymes, trypsinogen, ends up breaking down the protein keratin in the lining of the lung tissue. Keratin is found all throughout the body, including the lining of the nasal passage and the eye. When the enzyme breaks down the keratin, it produces substances called kinins. Kinins are chemical messengers that travel across the blood-brain barrier and trigger inflammation reactions. In the case of eye boogies, the immune system sends out inflammatory cells to fight the antigens associated with the foreign matter. As these cells rush to the area, they release oxygen free radicals, which damage healthy tissues. Over time, the damage caused by these oxidizing agents can lead to blindness.
Although eye boogies are generally harmless, they can pose serious health risks for certain people. For example, if someone has allergies to pollen, he or she should avoid activities outdoors where pollen is present. Also, if a person experiences eye boogies year round, he or she should consult a doctor about potential underlying conditions.
Keep reading to find out what causes eye boogies and how to treat them.
Causes of Eye Boogies
There are several factors that can contribute to eye boogies. Some people seem to be born with an affinity for them, while others appear to be susceptible after being exposed to certain environmental elements. Most common among these culprits are food, air pollution, allergens and viruses.
Foods and beverages are known to incite eye boogies. Certain foods contain high amounts of sugar, which acts as an irritant to the sensitive eye surface. For instance, people who consume large amounts of raw onions or garlic could develop eye boogies. Other foods that can cause eye irritation include milk, eggs, cheese, ice cream, chocolate, tomatoes, potatoes and citrus fruits. Foods rich in vitamin A (carotene) and beta-carotene increase the risk of getting eye boogies. Beta-carotene is a powerful antioxidant that protects us against cancer and heart disease. However, excessive consumption of carotenoid vegetables can cause eye irritation, particularly if bacteria starts to grow in the underdeveloped areas between the lashes. Such growth forms a film over the affected areas, which makes it harder for the eyes to clear themselves of moisture.
Smoking tobacco is another major contributor to the development of eye boogies. Smoking cigarettes depletes the eyes’ natural supply of antioxidants, which protect the eyes from oxidative stress. Oxidation occurs whenever there is exposure to oxygen molecules, which cause the oxidation of fats and oils. It also changes nitrogen compounds into reactive intermediates called free radicals. Free radicals attack cell membranes and DNA, damaging the tissues of the eyes. Finally, cigarette smoke contains carbon monoxide, which binds tightly to hemoglobin molecules in red blood cells. Carbon monoxide prevents the delivery of oxygenated blood to the organs and tissues of the body, including the eye.
Airborne pollutants can also play a role in the occurrence of eye boogies. Common sources of air pollution include vehicle exhaust fumes, industrial emissions, cigarette smoking and burning wood. All of these sources contain sulfur dioxide, which is harmful to the eyes. Sulfuric acid, which is released from car exhaust pipes, can burn the linings of the eyes’ protective sacs. Vehicle exhaust fumes also emit nitrous oxides, which are responsible for inflamed eyes. Burning wood creates smoke filled with particulate matter, which is inhaled deep into the lungs and absorbed through the bloodstream. When these materials enter the bloodstream, they attach to the walls of arteries. Over time, these obstructions reduce the flow of blood to various parts of the body, including the eyes.
Viruses may also cause eye boogies. Conjunctivitis, a viral inflammation of the membrane that covers the whites of the eyes, can spread quickly within families. Viral infections can also affect the innermost layer of the eyelids, leading to scarring and other complications. Herpes simplex virus infection, commonly referred to as HSV-1 or HSV-2, affects both children and adults and resides in nerve endings near the base of the eyelashes. HSV-1 infects 80 percent of Americans, while HSV-2 is less prevalent but still spreads widely worldwide. Both types of HSV can cause painful outbreaks of eye boogies. Trachoma is another bacterial infection that attacks the eyelids and can lead to scarring and permanent loss of vision.
Now that you know why eye boogies happen, read on to learn how to treat them.
Treating Eye Boogies
If left untreated, eye boogies can cause significant pain and discomfort. Fortunately, they don’t last long once they’ve developed. You’ll need to wipe them with a damp cloth to remove any excess fluid buildup. Keep your hands clean, and wash your face gently with warm water. Afterward, apply a soothing ointment or lotion to relieve the itchiness.
To prevent future occurrences of eye boogies, you should consider keeping your environment clean. Take care to maintain good hygiene habits, such as washing your hands frequently, avoiding contact sports, wearing sunglasses and using effective sunscreen protection. Avoiding strenuous exercise, alcohol consumption and smoking can also help minimize your chances of developing eye boogies.
If you suspect that you are suffering from eye boogies, see your physician immediately. He or she will examine your eyes and diagnose you based on the results. Your doctor may prescribe medications to manage the pain and itching associated with eye boogies. Be aware, though, that different physicians may prescribe different treatments depending on your specific condition.
For more information on treating eye boogies, visit the links on the following page.
Sometimes, even though you may feel that your eye boogies have cleared up, you may continue to see specks moving across your eyes. These may represent bits of debris stuck to the mucus or simply leftover fluids. To make sure that the specks disappear completely, you can take an over-the-counter antihistamine medication to stop the formation of tears. You may want to wash your eyes with hydrogen peroxide solution twice daily to improve drainage and decrease the amount of mucus.
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