Written and Medically Reviewed by Dr Leigh Plowman, Optometrist (updated Sept 2022)
Ever get watery eyes? Do your tears overflow as if you are crying? Then you might be experiencing epiphora. Epiphora or watery eyes is one of the most common eye problems, particularly in older people.
Tears help keep the eyes stay nourished, lubricated and safe from foreign particles. Certain emotions like sadness, happiness and anger can cause your eyes to water. Spending too much time in front of the computer screen can also make you tear up.
Our eyes also automatically produce tears when something gets into the eye surface, like dust, smoke, a speck of dirt, eyelash, etc. These are all normal.
Once the irritating particle got flushed out or once you’re able to rest your eye after spending some time in front of your computer, the eyes would stop watering. This is not the case for others. Some people experience uncontrolled tearing.
Although some may consider watery eyes or epiphora a minor problem, it can still affect one’s daily life. Extremely watery eyes can get irritating and troublesome.
So, what causes watery eyes? There can be several potential reasons for someone to develop watery eyes. Read on to understand more about this condition as we discuss its causes, diagnosis, treatments and remedies.
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Causes of Watery Eyes
Several conditions can trigger watery eyes. It can be one or more of the following.
1. Dry Eyes
Why would your eyes get watery when you have dry eyes? Yes, this might sound counterintuitive but dry eye disease often leads to extremely watery eyes. Dry eyes can get irritating and uncomfortable. As the body’s natural response, the eyes start to produce more tears to get rid of the irritation. But it can get too much for the eyes’ natural drainage to handle, thus causing the tears to overflow.
Aside from excessive watering of the eyes and constant irritation, dry eye disease can also cause vision problems, stinging, inflammation, redness and burning.
2. Blocked Tear Ducts
The tear ducts are the eyes’ natural drainage system. They are the small holes in the corner of your eyes. The lacrimal glands produce tears, then they wash over the surface of the eye and then drained out through the tear ducts.
With blocked tear ducts, the tears accumulate in the eye surface and then overflow. There are several factors than cause blockage to the tear ducts like aging, inflammation, infection, injury and others.
This is the most common cause of watery eyes for infants. Babies, especially newborns are susceptible to blocked tear ducts but they often resolve on their own.
3. Ectropion and Entropion
The eyelids serve as the eyes’ windshield. They spread the tears through the eye surface when you blink and get rid of the extra moisture. Eyelid problems can cause watery eyes. Ectropion and entropion are conditions that affect in which direction the eyelids turn to.
With ectropion, the lower eyelid is turning outward. This makes the lower eyelids droop or sag, making it hard for the eyelids to wipe the whole eye when you blink.
On the other hand, entropion is the inward turning of the lower eyelid against the eyeball. With entropion, lashes have the tendency to continuously rub against the eye. It causes irritation to the eye and can sometimes damage the cornea.
Either of these two eyelid problems can trigger watery eyes.
Pink eye is also known as conjunctivitis which is a kind of eye inflammation. A watery eye is a common symptom of conjunctivitis. Other symptoms include excessive mucus in the eye, reddening of the inner eyelids and blurry vision. Viruses like common colds are usually the main cause of most cases of pink eye. It can take multiple days up to weeks for the condition to be resolved.
Almost 20% of the population or approximately 4.1 million Australians have at least one type of allergy. Exposure to potential allergens like pollen, dust, fumes, certain animals and others can trigger some symptoms. Excessive tearing of the eyes is one of the many common allergic reactions. Aside from that, allergies can also cause redness, swelling and irritation in the eyes.
These red painful lumps along the eyelid can also cause eyes to water too much. Styes are usually caused by bacteria and naturally disappear after a day or two as long as you leave it alone. Applying a warm compress on the eye can help ease the pain away.
7. Bell’s Palsy
This condition can cause facial muscles to weaken or be paralyzed due to some nerve damage. It also causes the face to droop or become stiff on the affected side. Bell’s palsy can also affect the eyes in the form of, excessive tearing, dry eye disease or the inability to close one’s eye.
8. Sjogren’s Syndrome
This autoimmune disease occurs when the usually protective immune system attacks e person’s body by mistake. Sjogren’s syndrome particularly attacks the glands responsible for producing tears and saliva. This results to dry mouth, dry eyes or extremely watery eyes.
Some medications can also cause watery eyes as a side effect. Among these medications are chemotherapy drugs, epinephrine, echothiophate iodide and pilocarpine.
10. Other Potential Causes
Weather conditions like winter, strong wind, too much sunshine or dusty weather can also trigger the eyes to produce more tears. Too much eye strain, from work, for example, can also cause the eyes to tear up too much. Other environmental factors like bright light, smog, airconditioning and exposure to foreign objects such as chemicals, gases or liquid can cause eye irritation which will then lead to watery eyes.
Looking for makeup or skincare products for sensitive eyes? Read these reviews of Eyes Are The Story for sensitive, watery or dry eyes.
When Should You See the Doctor
Watery eyes are typically temporary and get better on their own or when the cause is treated. However, it is best to consult an eye specialist if the condition persists and if you experience any of the following.
- Red excessive watery eyes that are also producing discharge
- Painful watery eyes
- Watery eyes partnered with sore sinuses
- Vision disturbances os loss
- Watery eyes accompanied by severe headache
- Bruising around the eyes
- Exposure to chemicals
Diagnosing the symptoms and cause of your watery eyes can also determine the best treatment for your specific condition.
In the case that watery eyes fail to clear up on its own, your eye care doctor will perform a physical and eye exam to properly diagnose your condition. Your doctor will also perform tests on your tears checking their quality and quantity.
The eye care specialist will typically ask about any recent eye injuries or health conditions or medication intake. It is important to answer your doctor as accurately as possible.
After the diagnosis, the doctor can prescribe medications to help with your watery eyes or suggest other treatments to deal with the root cause.
Treatment for Watery Eyes
The treatment for watery eyes depends on its root cause and how severe the case is.
In some cases, eye doctors may recommend to just wait it out and monitor how it progresses. On other cases, they may recommend one of the following treatments and remedies.
- Prescription eye drops.
- Medication for allergies.
- Antibiotics for eye infection.
- Warm compress with a wet towel or washcloth to treat clogged tear ducts.
- Removal of an inward-growing eyelash or any foreign object that lodge in the eyes.
- Surgery to correct eyelid placement due to ectropion or entropion.
- Dacryocystorhinostomy (DCR) or a surgery that creates a new drainage system for the tears to bypass the blocked part of a tear duct.
- Other options for specific causes like dry eye treatments.
Watery eyes may seem like a simple condition that does not require that much attention, but for some, it can get really irritating especially if it develops to be a chronic problem.
Consult an eye specialist if your watery eyes don’t get better after a few days, especially if you’re experiencing other symptoms. Find the nearest eye clinic near you today.