When strands of mucus continually develop and a person keeps removing them from their eye, this is known as mucus fishing syndrome. The name refers to the way a person “fishes” these strands from their eye.

Mucus can appear in the eye for many reasons, such as irritation and infection. Sometimes, when a person pulls mucus from their eye, the eye becomes irritated, causing more mucus to develop. The more a person removes the mucus, the more mucus the eye produces.

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However, there are ways to break this pattern. Read on to discover what causes mucus fishing syndrome, how to prevent it, and how to treat the condition when it occurs.

Symptoms

Lady looking in a mirror with possible mucus fishing syndrome
Symptoms of an eye infection may include redness, pain, and watery eyes.

The primary symptom of mucus fishing syndrome is the frequent removal of strands of mucus from the surface of the eye. Constant repetition of this action makes it more likely that eye irritation and infection will occur.

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A person with an eye infection may have the following symptoms:

Causes

A person develops mucus fishing syndrome due to an overproduction of mucus in the eye.

Conditions that cause the syndrome include:

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Conjunctivitis

Conjunctivitis, also known as pink eye, is a contagious condition that causes the eyes to become pink and painful. It usually affects both eyes. Conjunctivitis can occur because of a particular allergy, bacteria, or virus.

Symptoms of conjunctivitis include:

  • red or pink eyes
  • an itchy or burning feeling in the eyes
  • watery eyes
  • sticky pus in and around the eyes.

Regular hand washing, trying not to touch the eye area, and avoiding sharing pillows or towels will reduce the risk of passing conjunctivitis to others.

Dacryocystitis

Dacryocystitis is an eye infection that affects the tear ducts. It can occur when the tear ducts become blocked, causing the eye to produce a sticky discharge.

Infants are more likely to be affected, though adults may also be susceptible.

Body-focused repetitive behavior disorder

A person with body-focused repetitive behavior (BFRB) disorder may habitually rub their eyes, which can irritate the surface and cause the eye to produce extra mucus.

Typically, a person with this disorder repeatedly performs particular actions, such as rubbing their eyes, pulling their hair, or biting their nails. They find it difficult to stop or control how many times they do this, which can cause damage to their physical and mental health.

BRFB affects around 1 in 20 people, and stress and boredom can make it worse.

Dry eye syndrome

Dry eye syndrome occurs when a person’s tears do not lubricate the eye enough. The eye tries to compensate for this by producing more tears, which causes a person to excessively touch their eyes to wipe the tears away.

Constant touching can lead to eye infections, as well as cause the eye to become irritated and inflamed.

Blepharitis

Tears contain many different substances, including water, salt, mucus, and oil. When the glands that produce the oil do not work well, blepharitis can develop, causing the eyelids to become inflamed and crusty.

Symptoms of blepharitis include excessive tear production, eye redness, and eyelashes sticking together and becoming crusty.

Diagnosis

woman speaking with a doctor
Seeing a doctor is recommended if mucus discharge from the eye will not go away.

If mucus discharge from the eye will not go away, a person should make an appointment with their doctor as soon as possible. Doing so will lessen the chances of the eye becoming infected.

It is important that a person tells the doctor about the symptoms they experience, and how often they pull mucus from their eye, as this will help the doctor to make a quick diagnosis.

Because mucus fishing syndrome is usually due to irritation or an underlying condition, a doctor will probably talk about any other symptoms a person is experiencing to work out the underlying cause. The doctor will usually perform an examination that involves artificially dilating the pupil and examining the eye.

It is important to note that if a doctor needs to dilate the eyes, some people might not feel comfortable driving afterward. In these situations, a person should arrange transport home from the appointment. Those who have undergone artificial dilation before may choose to drive themselves home. However, they should wear sunglasses to help with any light sensitivity that might result from the procedure.

Treatment

Once a person stops touching their eye to remove excess mucus, mucus fishing syndrome will clear up.

However, if an underlying condition, such as dry eye syndrome or conjunctivitis, is causing mucus fishing syndrome, additional treatment may be necessary.

A doctor may recommend:

  • antibiotics
  • steroid eye drops
  • eye drops to help lubricate the eye
  • warm or cold compresses to soothe and help reduce inflammation

It might be challenging to stop fishing for mucus at first. But, once a person has broken the cycle, their eye will eventually stop producing mucus and start to clear.

People who have BFRB disorder may find this more difficult. If a person has BFRB disorder, a doctor may recommend treatment from a therapist to try to stop this behavior from occurring.

Treatment for BRFB consists of behavioral therapy, which involves using a series of techniques to train a person to reverse their repetitive habits.

Tips for healthy eyes

Contact lens and contact lens solution
A person should always wash their hands before touching their eyes or contact lenses.

While some eye conditions are unavoidable, there are measures a person can take to help keep their eyes healthy:

  • avoiding touching the eyes where possible
  • ensuring hands are clean when touching eyes is unavoidable
  • washing hands before inserting or touching contact lenses
  • cleaning contact lenses thoroughly and replacing the lens case on a regular basis
  • avoiding cigarette smoke, as this can irritate the eyes
  • wearing sunglasses with appropriate UV protection on bright days
  • booking an annual eye examination, including pupil dilation to ensure any eye condition or degeneration is caught and treated as early as possible
  • eating foods high in Omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon and tuna, and plenty of dark leafy greens
  • wearing appropriate eyewear when playing sports or taking part in activities that could potentially damage the eyes
  • when using eye drops, avoid letting the tip touch the hands or face as this can make an eye infection more likely – use preservative-free eye drops where possible
  • using the 20-20-20 rule if a person’s job involves looking at screens a lot — the rule is to look at an object 20 feet away, for 20 seconds, every 20 minutes
  • blinking often to reduce eye strain

Anyone who suspects they have an eye condition should make an appointment with their doctor as soon as possible and follow their advice and recommendations.

Outlook

Mucus fishing syndrome will clear up if a person can stop fishing the mucus from their eyes, though breaking the habit can be difficult for some people.

However, mucus in the eye can be a sign of an underlying eye condition that may need medical treatment. If left untreated, eye problems can get worse and may become infected.

Treating any underlying condition will cause less eye irritation and reduce mucus production, creating less need for a person to pull mucus from their eyes.

Following good practices to keep eyes healthy will help to reduce the likelihood of eye problems, such as mucus fishing syndrome, developing.