Sticky Eyes in Babies: What to Do?


Dr Livia Teo

Dr Livia Teo is Senior Consultant at the Singapore National Eye Centre Oculoplastics Department and Visiting Consultant at Kendang Kerbau Women’s and Children’s Hospital Eye Department. Apart from managing adult eye conditions like Cataract, Glaucoma, Dry Eyes, Eyelid, Orbit and Tearing disorders, she has a special interest in managing Pediatric Oculoplastics conditions. She is a mother to 2 beautiful daughters and enjoys doing yoga in her free time.

Eyecare in a Newborn


How to Clean Your Newborn’s Eyes

You can soak clean cotton pads or cotton wool balls in a bowl of clean warm water. Squeeze the cotton pad dry and wipe your baby’s eyes from the inner corner to the outer corner. Apply gentle pressure to close the eye as you sweep inwards to outwards. You can repeat this motion 2-3 times until the eye area is clean.



Easy Steps to Clean Your Newborn’s Eyes

If your baby’s eye is unable to open in the morning due to the secretions, do not attempt to pry them open while dry. Place a damp cotton pad over the eye for a few seconds to soften the crusted secretions before sweeping it away.



Why are my newborn’s eyes sticky?

Sticky eyes in a baby is a very common problem and can be caused by


  • A newborn clogged tear duct. This is the commonest cause of sticky eye in a newborn. 90% of blocked tear ducts will spontaneously resolve by 1 year of age.
  • Epiblepharon, also known as in-turned eyelashes. Up to 40% of children of East Asian descent (e.g. Chinese, Koreans), can be born with this condition. Most children outgrow this as they get older
  • An eye infection e.g. conjunctivitis. This could either be a bacterial or viral infection. You might notice pus coming out from the eye and the white of the eye is red or pink. This will require antibiotic eyedrops or antiviral ointment from your doctor to treat. In serious infections, your child might even require admission to a hospital to be treated with antibiotics.
  • Congenital glaucoma is a rare but serious cause of tearing. Glaucoma is caused by raised pressure inside the eye. This is usually accompanied by a whitish discolouration of the black part of the eye (the cornea).



When should I bring my newborn to see a doctor?

If you notice any of the following, you should bring your child to see a doctor.


  • If the amount of discharge is increasing, pus like, or greenish in colour
  • if the white of the eye is pink or red in colour
  • if the eyelids are swollen
  • if you notice any lumps on the eyelids.
  • If the black part of the eye is white or grey in colour or larger than normal

Your doctor will initiate treatment as needed. He can then assess the need for your newborn to see an eye doctor.



What is a blocked or clogged tear duct in my baby?

The tear duct (sometimes referred to as an eye duct) is a tube that drains tears from the eye into the nose. The diagram attached shows the position of the tear duct and its connection to the nose. The tear duct is commonly blocked at the lowest point where it drains into the nose. Massaging the clogged tear ducts in a newborn will usually overcome the point of blockage.



How do I perform a newborn blocked tear duct massage?

This newborn tear duct massage is called the Crigler Massage. Always wash your hands before performing this massage. While your child is nursing or sleeping, place your little finger on the inner corner of his/ her eyelid. Apply gentle pressure in this corner with small circular motions, followed by a stroking downward movement along the side of their nose. You can repeat this downward stroking motion about 10 times on the side of the teary eye. This can be performed three times a day.



Newborn Eye Massage

Fun fact: did you know that babies tear glands are not fully developed at birth? They don’t shed real tears when they cry until they are at least 2 weeks old!



What will happen if my child continues to have a sticky eye after one year of age?

You can arrange to see one of our tear duct specialists from the Oculoplastics department at the Singapore National Eye Centre. A minor surgical procedure can be performed to probe and syringe the ducts open.


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