Tear System (Lacrimal Apparatus)

Your tear system (lacrimal apparatus) is a network of glands, sacs and ducts around your eyes. It makes new tears and drains old ones out of your eyes. Dry or watery eyes are the most common symptom of something interfering with your tear system.


What is the lacrimal apparatus?

The lacrimal apparatus is the medical name for your tear system. It’s a group of glands, sacs and ducts that makes new tears and drains old ones away. Each of your eyes has its own lacrimal apparatus.

Your tear system is a complex network that lubricates and protects your eyes. Visit an eye care specialist if you notice any changes in your eyes. If your eyes are too dry or too watery, there might be something interfering with your tear system.


Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy


What does the tear system do?

Your tear system is like an automatic irrigation system. Instead of sprinklers, underground plumbing and drains working together to keep your lawn green, your tear system has glands and ducts that move lacrimal fluid (the medical term for your tears) across your eyes.

Your eyes produce tears to protect themselves. They lubricate tissue like your conjunctiva and cornea. They also flush foreign materials (like allergens or dust) out of your eye. Your facial nerve — sometimes referred to as seventh cranial nerve — controls the muscles in your face and eye that pump tears into and out of your eye.

Tears are created in lacrimal glands in the upper outside corners of your eyes. They’re mostly salt and water. This fluid moves across your eyes as you blink and is mixed with oil from your meibomian glands to form your tears. This keeps the water from evaporating too quickly. Some of the oils stay along the edge of the eyelid to keep tears from “leaking” over your eyelashes.

Tears that have been flushed from your eyes drain away and into your tear ducts that empty into the back of your nose. That’s why you might feel stuffy if you’ve been crying. Your excess tears are flowing faster than they usually would into the back of your nose and draining into your throat.


What are the components of the tear system?

The components of your tear system include:

  • Lacrimal glands (tear glands): Lacrimal glands behind the upper outside corner of your eyes make the salty water that becomes your tears. The glands are each about the size of an almond.
  • Meibomian glands: Meibomian glands on the edges of your eyelids produce oil that mixes with the water from your lacrimal glands to become your tears. The oil helps the water cling together and stay in your eyes as long as it needs to.
  • Lacrimal puncta: Lacrimal puncta are the openings that pump tears out of your eyes. You have a punctum (the singular form of puncta) in each of your upper and lower eyelids on the inside of your eye, near your nose. Every time you blink, your puncta act like valves that drain used tears away from your eye.
  • Lacrimal sacs: Lacrimal sacs in the inside corner of your eye collect tears that drain out of your eyes through your lacrimal puncta. They act like temporary reservoirs for tears that have just left your eyes. They keep old tears from flooding your tear ducts constantly.
  • Nasolacrimal duct (tear ducts): Nasolacrimal duct is the medical term for your tear ducts. Old tears that leave your eye through your lacrimal puncta and lacrimal sacs drain into tear ducts on either side of your nose. Your tear ducts empty into the back of your nose.

Conditions and Disorders

What are the most common conditions that affect my tear system?

Some of the most common conditions that affect your tear system include:

What are the most common signs or symptoms that something is wrong with my tear system?

Visit an eye care specialist if you have dry eyes or watery eyes. These are the most common signs that something’s interfering with your tear system.

If something is wrong with one part of your lacrimal apparatus, it can affect your whole tear system. For example, if something is blocking your meibomian glands, your tears might spill out of your eyes. This can make it feel like you’re making more tears than usual because they’re missing the oil that helps them stay in your eye.

Talk to an eye care specialist if you notice any changes in your eyes. Even a small change like frequent dry eyes can be a sign of an issue that an eye care specialist can diagnose and treat.



How do I take care of my tear system?

Visit an eye care specialist for regular eye exams. They’ll check your vision and the overall health of your eyes, including your tear system.

Tell your eye care specialist about any changes in your vision. If you wear glasses or contact lenses, have your eyes examined regularly so your provider can adjust your prescription as often as necessary. If you have diabetes, you need to see your eye care specialist at least once a year.

Make sure you’re wearing proper eye protection for any sport or activity that could cause an eye injury.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Your lacrimal apparatus (the medical name for your tear system) keeps your eyes lubricated and protected. The tears it makes play an important role in keeping your eyes healthy and working as they should.

Visit an eye care specialist if your eyes feel dry or watery. These symptoms are usually mild, but they can also be signs of issues that can damage your eyes or vision if they’re not treated as soon as possible. No matter what’s causing dry or watery eyes, your eye care specialist will help restore the usual balance in your tear system.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 11/02/2022.

Learn more about our editorial process.

Appointments 216.444.2020