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Watery Eyes

Tears serve several key roles in your body. They keep your eyes lubricated and help to wash away foreign particles and dust. And tears are also a component of your immune system and protect you against infection.

Glands under the skin of your upper eyelids produce tears, which contain water and salt. When you blink, tears spread and keep your eyes moist. Other glands produce oils that keep tears from evaporating too fast or from spilling out of your eyes.

Tears are normally discharged through your tear ducts and then evaporate. When you produce too many tears, they overwhelm your tear ducts, and you develop watery eyes.

If your tears do not contain the right balance of water, salt, and oils, your eyes can become too dry. The resulting irritation causes an overproduction of tears that spill out through your tear ducts.

Because your eyes are not receiving proper lubrication, you continue to produce an abundance of tears, which continues the cycle.

Blocked tear ducts, dust, wind, allergies, infection, and injury can also cause watery eyes.

Most of the time, watery eyes resolve without treatment, but the condition can sometimes become a chronic problem.

Consult your doctor if you have a prolonged case of watery eyes, especially if it is accompanied by other symptoms.

Causes of watery eyes

It is common to temporarily produce excess tears when you are emotional, laughing, coughing, vomiting, experiencing strong taste sensations, or yawning. Among other common causes are:

  • weather conditions such as wind, cold, and sunshine
  • eye strain
  • environmental factors such as bright light and smog
  • common cold, sinus problems, and allergies
  • inflammation of the eyelid (blepharitis)
  • eyelid turned outward (ectropion) or inward (entropion)
  • ingrown eyelash (trichiasis)
  • pink eye (conjunctivitis) or other infections
  • blocked tear ducts
  • foreign objects, chemicals, or irritating gases and liquids in the eye
  • cut or scrape on the eye
  • some prescription medications
  • cancer treatments, including chemotherapy and radiation

One of the most prevalent reasons for watery eyes is dry eye syndrome. Extremely dry eyes can cause you to produce excess tears. If your tears do not contain enough of the right oils to lubricate your eyes, your eyes will continue to produce tears.

Typically, watery eyes are temporary and resolve on their own when the cause is addressed or your eyes have healed. However, in some cases, the condition may persist.

When should you call a doctor?

The reason for your dry eyes will determine the best treatment. You should contact a physician or eye doctor if you have excessive or prolonged tearing and any of the following symptoms:

  • vision loss or visual disturbances
  • injured or scratched eye
  • chemicals in your eye
  • discharge or bleeding from your eye
  • foreign object stuck in your eye on the inside of your eyelid
  • red, irritated, swollen, or painful eyes
  • unexplained bruising around your eye
  • tenderness around your nose or sinuses
  • eye issues accompanied by a severe headache
  • watery eyes that fail to improve on their own

How are dry eyes treated?

In most cases, watery eyes will clear up without treatment. If not, your physician or eye doctor will perform an eye exam or a physical.

Be prepared to answer questions about recent eye injuries and health conditions. Tell your doctor about any prescription or over-the-counter medications or supplements you take.

Your doctor may also perform a test that determines if fluid can pass through the tear ducts.

Remedies for watery eyes include:

  • prescription eye drops
  • treating allergies that make your eyes watery
  • antibiotics if you have an eye infection
  • a warm, wet towel placed on your eyes several times a day, which can help with blocked tear ducts
  • a surgical procedure to clear blocked tear ducts
  • surgery to repair or create a new tear drainage system (dacryocystorhinostomy)

Outlook for watery eyes

Most cases of watery eyes aren’t serious, and will resolve without treatment. You should always call your eye doctor right away if you experience any changes in your vision. Vision changes can be a symptom of very serious eye problems that require prompt treatment. 

Content licensed from:

Written by: Ann Pietrangelo
Medically reviewed on: Jun 06, 2016: University of Illinois-Chicago, College of Medicine

This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to replace the care and information received from your health care provider. Please consult a health care professional with any health concerns you may have.
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