Is It Okay to Go Mucus Fishing In Your Eyeballs?

An eye doc weighs in on TikTok's newest odd beauty "hack."

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Have you heard of mucus fishing? This has nothing to do with your throat, or a rod and line in the great outdoors, but rather a TikTok trend of dragging mucus out of eyeballs. But before you get too excited: It's best not to jump on the bandwagon with this one.

"Like so many other bad ideas on TikTok (Benadryl challenge, sleepy chicken, Tide pod challenge, anyone?) no one should be mucus fishing," says Melissa Toyos, M.D., board-certified ophthalmologist and facial cosmetic surgeon.

This practice, as evidenced by TikTok, generally involves using a cotton swab or finger to pull strings mucus out of the rim of your eye.

It might look satisfying (à la pimple popping), but that mucus is naturally produced in the eyes as part of a healthy tear film, says Toyos. The purpose of this mucus is to attract and hold moisture to the eye and to coat and remove irritants — "like pearls in an oyster," she says.

So, yes, that stuff actually serves a purpose — and you shouldn't try to get rid of it. "The act of 'mucus fishing' with fingers or cotton swabs can actually create a negative spiral in which more irritation leads to more mucus production," says Toyos. Meaning, pulling the mucus out of your eye creates irritation that will then spur the production of more mucus.

A "normal" amount of mucus isn't super noticeable, and especially shouldn't warrant someone picking at their eyes to find it, says Toyos. Mucus may collect in the corners of the eyes (yes, eye boogers), or as "strings" in the eyelid. Yes, this is all fine.

There are instances when your eyes may produce more mucus as a result of something in your environment. For example, this can happen when your eyes are irritated, dry, or responding to allergies, explains Toyos. "The amount of mucus can also be affected by eye dryness caused by screen time, contact lens use, makeup, false eyelashes, infections, and lack of sleep," says Toyos.

But, when this happens, though it may be irritating or uncomfortable, you shouldn't necessarily start poking around and you certainly shouldn't mucus fish. "The potential risks of mucus fishing are bacterial or viral infections, eye redness, irritations, or cuts on the delicate surface of the eye, and potentially blindness," warns Toyos. (Speaking of: This TikTok Eyeliner Tape Hack Might Not Be a Great Idea, FYI)

"Our eyes are self-cleaning," says Toyos. So the best thing you can do is leave them alone.

If they're really bothering you, or if they're crusty, "you can wipe them with a clean, wet washcloth or a wipe made for eyes (preferably without detergents)," she says. Ditto for those eye boogers or crusty bits you might have in your eyes in the morning.

It's really the fishing around repetitively and deep into the eyelid (that both come with mucus fishing) that's problematic, she says.

If your regular mucus starts to develop into "pizza cheese," — a diagnostic sign of allergic conjunctivitis (allergy-induced pink eye) — or yellow or green mucus, you should see your eye-care provider, adds Toyos.

Another reason to see your eye doc? If you've started mucus fishing, and you can't resist the urge to keep doing it. The thing is, once you have gone fishing, you're more likely to make a routine of it, seeking out the mucus on a regular basis, says Toyos. "Mucus fishing can also become a compulsive habit — called 'body picking' — where people mucus fish when they are feeling anxious."

In this case, a visit to your eye-care provider is even more crucial, says Toyos. If your eyes are dry, you may want to try preservative-free artificial tears and topical allergy drops, which will calm eyes and allow them to heal any irritation, she says. (Heads up: Oral allergy medication can actually cause additional dryness, she says.)

Once your eyes are calmed and normal mucus is restored, consider drops like LUMIFY, "a redness reducing drop that helps the eyes to appear brighter and feels soothing," to help prevent a relapse, she suggests. Either way, just keep the cotton swabs out of your eyeballs, cool?

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