Eye boogers. Sleep. Eye crust. Rheum. The mucus in our eyes goes by all sorts of names, and it’s something we all experience. But while a little mucus in your eyes each day is perfectly normal, an excessive amount is often a sign of an underlying issue.

Your eyes might produce extra mucus when they’re irritated or inflamed. But repeatedly pulling mucus from your eye actually causes more eye irritation, which leads to more eye mucus production. This causes a cyclical pattern of mucus production and removal—a condition known as mucus fishing syndrome or fishing eye syndrome.

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at this eye condition and everything you need to know about it. (Get ready to read the word “mucus” a lot!)

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What Is Mucus Fishing Syndrome?

Someone with mucus fishing syndrome regularly finds white stringy mucus in their eye and “fishes” it out—typically with their finger or a cotton swab. As the mucus is pulled, it looks like long white strings coming out of the eye.

To someone who doesn’t have mucus fishing syndrome, this might sound unappealing (to put it delicately). But for someone who has mucus fishing syndrome, removing the stringy eye mucus often feels good. Those stringy eye boogers can irritate the eye and might even cause some blurriness in vision. Removing the mucus likely provides some temporary relief. 

But temporary is the key word because repeatedly removing the strands of mucus can actually damage the cornea, causing further irritation and the return of more mucus strings in the eye.

What Causes Mucus Fishing Syndrome?

Infographic showing the cyclical pattern of mucus fishing syndrome

The repetitive removal of mucus strands in the eye technically causes mucus fishing syndrome (hence the “fishing” in the name). But someone with mucus fishing syndrome would probably wonder, “Why is my eye producing so much mucus in the first place?”

There is always some underlying cause for excessive mucus in the eyes, so it’s important to talk to your eye doctor about your mucus fishing habits so that they can find and address that underlying issue. 

Conditions That Cause Mucus Fishing Syndrome

There are many eye conditions that can cause irritation or inflammation that results in excessive eye mucus production. Some of the most common underlying conditions that lead to mucus fishing syndrome include:

  • Dry eye syndrome – The body’s natural tears aren’t lubricating the eye as well as they should be on their own, causing the eye to become dry and irritated.
  • Blepharitis – Inflammation of the eyelids related to the oil glands or overproduction of bacteria causes redness and irritation.
  • Conjunctivitis – An eye infection that can lead to itching, irritation, redness, and excessive stringy eye discharge. There are different types of conjunctivitis, and it can be caused by allergens, irritants, bacteria, or a virus.
  • Body-focused repetitive behavior disorder (BFRB) – As the name implies, BFRB involves repetitive and compulsive body-focused behaviors (such as hair pulling or nail biting).

Is Mucus Fishing Syndrome Dangerous?

Yes! Mucus fishing syndrome is dangerous because it can cause harm to the surface of the eye, as well as lead to an increased chance of infection. Our eyes are very delicate, and the repeated touch of our fingers (especially fingers that haven’t just been properly cleaned) or of cotton swabs can damage the cornea or the inside of the eyelid. 

Believe it or not, videos of people fishing for their eye mucus became a viral trend in 2022. But any optometrist or ophthalmologist will surely agree: Mucus fishing is not something that should be done for entertainment. It can be harmful and should be avoided to protect your eye health.

How To Get Rid of Mucus Strings in Your Eyes 

The most important part of treatment for mucus fishing syndrome is to stop the mucus-fishing behavior. It’s hard to resist once it’s become a habitual thing, but avoiding that urge is the key to stopping the excessive mucus production.

Book an appointment with your eye doctor, and don’t be shy about telling them that you have been doing this fishing behavior. Your doctor will assess your eye(s), determine the underlying issue behind your mucus production, and prescribe a treatment.

When you address the underlying eye condition and stop the fishing behavior, your eye(s) should stop producing so much mucus. 

Protect Those Peepers!

Habits are hard to break, it’s true. But if you’re fishing for advice, just remember: Pulling mucus from your eye is doing more harm than good. Talk to your eye doctor right away, and get help treating the root issue to bring those eyes back to good health.

Fish for trout or fish for compliments, but please don’t fish for eye mucus.

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