What causes Watery eyes?

The sensation of watery eyes is often caused by excess tearing. Tears are produced by the lacrimal gland located above the outer part of the upper eyelid. The tears spread across the eye and then drain through small openings at the inner corners of the eyelids where it then travels into the nose. A blockage along these pathways can lead to a watery eye, as well as cause infections in and around the eye.


Watery eyes are commonly caused by upper respiratory infections or allergies that affect the eyes and/or nose. Allergies can cause your eyes to appear inflamed and red (sometimes confused with ‘pink eye’) resulting in excessive watering and itching. Similarly, viral infections can cause watery eyes/tearing while the infection is active.


Less common causes can include:


  • Dry eyes, when the dry surface of the eye becomes irritated, the tear gland may produce “reflex” tears causing watery eyes
  • An inwardly turned eyelid or eyelashes that rub against the eyeball
  • An outwardly turned eyelid that moves the punctum away from its position next to the eyeball preventing tear drainage
  • Age-related narrowing of the tear ducts
  • Chronic infections in the tear sac


Surprisingly, dry eye can cause watery eyes/tearing due to an unstable tear film. This can trigger your eyes to produce more tears to compensate, but often the instability in the tear film prevents a proper equilibrium from occurring, leading to continuous watery eyes/tearing.


Any disorder that irritates the cornea can increase tear production and cause watery eyes. However, corneal disorders such as a corneal scratch or sore, foreign object in the eye, or corneal inflammation, are accompanied by significant pain, redness, and sensitivity to light, which prompts medical examination and treatment.


While irritating, not all cases of watery eye necessitate an immediate evaluation from an optometrist. However, some symptoms are a cause for concern and should be seen to as soon as possible. If you are experiencing repeated, unexplained episodes of red, watery eyes, or notice that you have a hard mass in or near the tear duct, you should visit your eye doctor within a week. If you are bothered with watery eyes without any accompanying warning signs, you should see your eye doctor when it is convenient to improve your comfort.


Your doctor will evaluate your condition by determining whether there is a secondary cause of your watery eyes. If you have itching, redness, pain, have had a head injury, or taken medications that could cause watery eyes, then this knowledge will assist the doctor in diagnosing and treating your watery eyes. It will allow them to conduct a physical examination focusing on the face, eyes, and nose to look for blockages along the drainage pathways. When diagnosed, the optometrist will prescribe a treatment plan or refer you to a specialist, depending on the cause of your watery eyes.


If you are experiencing watery eyes/tearing, visit your optometrist for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.


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