My baby has a sticky eye

Watery or sticky eyes are common in newborn babies. You may see a white or yellow discharge in the corner of your baby’s eyes. This may cause the eyelashes to stick together.

It is caused by a narrow or blocked tear duct. 1 in 5 babies are born with a tear duct that has not yet opened in one or both eyes. Tear ducts usually open up and drain properly within the first few months of life.

Sticky eyes are not the same as conjunctivitis. Conjunctivitis makes the eye itself red and sore. If your baby is less than 1 month old and you think they have conjunctivitis speak to a doctor.

If your baby has any of the following:
  • Unable to open eye due to swelling
  • Severe pain and red eye
  • Pale, mottled and feels abnormally cold to touch
  • Pauses in their breathing lasting more than 10 seconds, is grunting or has blue lips
  • Is stiff or rigid or makes repeated, jerky movements of arms or legs that don't stop when you hold them (a fit or seizure)
  • Extremely agitated (crying inconsolably despite distraction), confused or very lethargic (difficult to wake)
  • A rash that does not disappear with pressure (the ‘Glass Test’)
  • Is under 3 months of age with a temperature of 38°C / 100.4°F or above (unless fever in the 48 hours following vaccinations and no other red or amber features)

You need urgent help.

Go to the nearest Hospital Emergency (A&E) Department or phone 999

If your baby has any of the following:
  • A lot of yellow or green discharge from one or both eyes and they are under 1 month old
  • Redness of the whites of the eyes/around the eyes
  • Swelling of the eyes
  • Drooping eyelid or pupils (black part of the eye) are different sizes
  • Worsening symptoms or if you are worried
  • Difficulty breathing, including breathing fast all of the time or pulling in of the muscles below the ribs when breathing
  • Not interested in feeding or no wet nappies in the last 8 hours
  • Is becoming drowsy (excessively sleepy) or irritable (unable to settle them)

You need to contact a doctor or nurse today

Please ring your GP surgery or call NHS 111

We recognise that during COVID, at peak times, access to a health care professional may be delayed. If symptoms persist for 4 hours or more and you have not been able to speak to either a member of staff from your GP practice or to NHS 111 staff, then consider taking them to your nearest A&E

If your baby has none of the above red or amber features:
  • It is normal for a baby to have a little bit of yellow or white discharge in the corner of one or both eyes and can cause the eyelashes to stick together. This can last for several months.

Self care

Continue providing your child’s care at home. 

It normally clears up on its own. Clean your baby’s eyes when needed with cotton wool and clean water. 

If you are still concerned about your baby, speak to your health visitor, local pharmacist or call NHS 111

This guidance has been reviewed and adapted by healthcare professionals across West Yorkshire with consent from the Hampshire development groups.

What should you do?

  • Clean the stickiness from your baby's eyes using cotton wool and clean water
  • Clean each eye starting from the corner by the nose and wipe outwards
  • Use a clean piece of cotton wool for each wipe and each eye
  • If the skin becomes sore you can use a little vaseline on the clean, dry skin to protect it 
  • Wash your hands before and afterwards
  • It may help to massage the tear duct several times a day. Use a clean finger using gentle pressure on the outside of the nose, near the corner of the eye
  • Eye drops are not needed even if the discharge is yellow or green unless the eye itself looks red

When will it get better?

It usually gets better by itself within a few weeks or months. If the tear duct is still blocked and  causing a sticky eye at 12 months of age you can speak to your GP who may refer your baby to an eye specialist. It is safe to wait a bit longer if it is not bothering your baby as it often improves with time. 

You can treat your child's very minor illnesses and injuries at home.

Some illnesses can be treated in your own home with support and advice from the services listed when required, using the recommended medicines and getting plenty of rest.

Sound advice

Children can recover from illness quickly but also can become more poorly quickly; it is important to seek further advice if a child's condition gets worse.

For information on common childhood illnesses go to What is wrong with my child?

All community pharmacies across England are required to be Healthy Living Pharmacies. This means that they are able to offer advice on a range of healthy living matters which includes eating a healthy diet. They can provide information leaflets and give parents, carers and young people more information about other organisations that might also be able to help.

Pharmacists are experts in many aspects of healthcare, and can offer advice on a wide range of long-term conditions and common illnesses such as coughs, colds and stomach upsets. You don’t need an appointment, and many have private consultation areas. Your pharmacist will say if you need further medical attention.

Sound advice

  1. Visit a pharmacy if your child is ill, but does not need to see a GP.
  2. Remember that if your child's condition gets worse, you should seek further medical advice immediately.
  3. Help your child to understand. Watch this video with them about going to the pharmacy.

For information on common childhood illnesses go to What is wrong with my child?

Health visitors are nurses or midwives who are passionate about promoting healthy lifestyles and preventing illness through the delivery of the Healthy Child Programme. They work with you through your pregnancy up until your child is ready to start school.

Health Visitors can also make referrals for you to other health professionals for example hearing or vision concerns, or to the Community Paediatricians, or the child and adolescent mental health services.


Contact your local Health Visiting Team:

Bradford Health Visitors or call - 01274 221223

Wakefield Health Visitors or call - 0300 373 0944

Craven Health Visitors or call - 01423 544265

Leeds Health Visitors or call - 0113 843 5683

Calderdale Health Visitors or call - 030 0304 5555 (local rate number)

Kirklees Health Visitors or call - 030 0304 5555 (local rate number)

Sound advice

Health visitors also provide advice, support and guidance in caring for your child, including:

For more information about what Health Visitors do: What does a health visitor do?

School nurses care for children and young people, aged 5 to19, and their families, to ensure their health needs are supported within their school and community. They work closely with education staff and other agencies to support parents, carers and the children and young people, with physical and, or emotional health needs.


Contacting the School Nurse

Primary and secondary schools have an allocated school nurse. Phone your child’s school to ask for the contact details of your named school nurse.

There is also a specialist nurse who works with families who choose to educate their children at home.

Contact your local school nursing team:

Bradford School Nurses 01274 221203

Wakefield School Nurses (0 to 19 service) 0300 373 0944 (local rate number)

Leeds School Nurses 0113 843 5683

Calderdale School Nurses 030 3330 9974 (local rate number)

Kirklees School Nurses 0300 304 5555 (local rate number)

Sound Advice

Before your child starts school your health visitor will meet with the school nursing team to transfer their care to the school nursing service. The school nursing team consists of a school nursing lead, specialist public health practitioners and school health staff nurses.

They all have a role in preventing disease and promoting health and wellbeing, by:

  • encouraging healthier lifestyles
  • offering immunisations
  • giving information, advice and support to children, young people and their families
  • supporting children with complex health needs

Each member of the team has links with many other professionals who also work with children including community paediatricians, child and adolescent mental health teams, health visitors and speech and language therapists. The school health nursing service also forms part of the multi-agency services for children, young people and families where there are child protection or safeguarding issues.

GPs assess, treat and manage a whole range of health problems. They also provide health education, give vaccinations and carry out simple surgical procedures. Your GP will arrange a referral to a hospital specialist should you need it.

All children should be registered with a GP. Anyone in England can register for free with a GP surgery. You do not need proof of address or immigration status, ID or an NHS number.

How to find your local GP.

Sound advice

You have a choice of service:

  1. Doctors/GPs can treat many illnesses that do not warrant a visit to A&E.
  2. Help your child to understand. Watch this video with them about visiting the GP or going to a walk in centre

For information on common childhood illnesses go to What is wrong with my child?

If you’re not sure which NHS service you need, call 111. An adviser will ask you questions to assess your symptoms and then give you the advice you need, or direct you straightaway to the best service for you in your area.

Please note, the online version of NHS 111 is only recommended for children over the age of 5. If your child is under 5 years old, please phone 111.

NHS 111 can also direct you to your nearest urgent treatment centre (minor injuries unit or walk-in centre).

Find your local urgent treatment centre.

When to visit an urgent treatment centre.

Sound advice

Use NHS 111 if you are unsure what to do next, have any questions about a condition or treatment or require information about local health services.

For information on common childhood illnesses go to What is wrong with my child?

A&E departments provide vital care for life-threatening emergencies, such as:

  • loss of consciousness
  • breathing difficulties
  • severe bleeding that cannot be stopped
  • major trauma such as road traffic collisions

If you’re not sure it’s an emergency, call 111 for advice.

Sound advice

  1. Many visits to A&E and calls to 999 could be resolved by any other NHS services.
  2. If your child's condition is not critical, choose another service to get them the best possible treatment.
  3. Help your child to understand. Watch this video with them about going to A&E or riding in an ambulance