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Watery eyes

Definition

Watery eyes means you have too many tears draining from the eyes. Tears help keep the surface of the eye moist. They wash away particles and foreign objects in the eye.

Alternative Names

Epiphora; Tearing - increased

Common Causes

Your eyes are always making tears. These tears eave the eye through a small hole in the corner of the eye called the tear duct.

Causes of watery eyes include:

  • Allergy to mold, dander, dust
  • Blepharitis (swelling along the edge of the eyelid)
  • Blockage of the tear duct
  • Conjunctivitis
  • Smog or chemicals in the air or wind
  • Bright light
  • Eyelid turning inward or outward
  • Something in the eye (such as dust or sand)
  • Scrape on the eye
  • Infection
  • Inward-growing eyelashes
  • Irritation

Increased tearing sometimes happens with:

Oddly enough, one of the most common causes of excess tearing is dry eyes. Drying causes the eyes to become uncomfortable, which stimulates the body to produce too many tears. One of the main tests for tearing is to check whether the eyes are too dry.

Home Care

Consider the cause of the tearing before treating yourself at home. Any treatment at home depends on the cause of your problem.

Call your health care provider if

Tearing is rarely an emergency. However, seek help right away if any chemical gets into the eye, or if you have severe pain, bleeding, loss of vision, or a more severe injury to the eye.

Contact your health care provider if you have:

  • A scratch on the eye
  • Something in the eye
  • Painful, red eyes
  • A lot of discharge coming from the eye
  • Long-term, unexplained tearing
  • Tenderness around the nose or sinuses

What to expect at your health care provider's office

The doctor will examine your eyes and ask questions about your medical history and symptoms. Questions may include:

  • When did the tearing start?
  • How often does it happen?
  • Does it affect both eyes?
  • Do you have vision problems?
  • Do you wear contacts or glasses?
  • Does the tearing happen after an emotional or stressful event?
  • Do you have eye pain or other symptoms, including headache, stuffy or runny nose, or joint or muscle aches?
  • What medications do you take?
  • Do you have allergies?
  • Did you recently hurt your eye?
  • What seems to help stop the tearing?  

Your doctor may order tests to help determine the cause.

Treatment depends on the cause of the problem.

References

Hurwitz JJ. The lacrimal drainage system. In: Yanoff M, Duker JS, eds. Ophthalmology. 3rd ed. St. Louis, Mo: Mosby Elsevier; 2008:chap 12.


Review Date: 11/7/2011
Reviewed By: Neil K. Kaneshiro, MD, MHA, Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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