Watery Eyes

Overview

What are watery eyes?

Watery eyes result from one or both eyes producing too many tears. Watery eyes can also happen when eyes have a problem draining tears. This condition is also known as epiphora.

Your eyes produce tears constantly to help moisten each eye and wash out any foreign objects or particles. The accessory lacrimal glands on the back of the upper and lower eyelids produce the tears that moisten the eyes throughout the day. The main lacrimal glands, located near the upper outer corner of each eye, produce tears to flush foreign materials out of the eye and for psychological tears during crying. Then tears flow across the eye to the tear ducts, located in the inside corners of each eye. Tears drain through the tear ducts and into the nose.

Watery eyes result from exposure to irritants, infections, or a blockage of your tear ducts or structural problems with the eyelids sagging so that the ducts aren’t in their normal positions. Ironically, watery eyes can result from reflex tearing when the nerves sense that the surface is too dry in people with dry eye syndrome. For many people, watery eyes get better without treatment. Your doctor may recommend treatment if watery eyes interfere with your vision or if you have other symptoms, like pain.

Possible Causes

What causes watery eyes?

Watery eyes are a symptom of an underlying problem. These problems can include:

  • Exposure to allergens
  • Eye infections
  • Dry eye syndrome, which causes the lacrimal gland to produce too many tears
  • Eye injuries
  • A foreign object in your eye
  • Blocked tear ducts
  • Sagging or abnormal positioning of the eyelids so the tear ducts aren’t in position

What are the symptoms of watery eyes?

With watery eyes, your eyes may feel too moist. Or you may have an excessive amount of tears pool in your eyes, blurring your vision, or even draining out of your eyes and down your face.

Care and Treatment

How are watery eyes diagnosed?

Your doctor diagnoses epiphora by examining your eyes and reviewing your medical history. If your doctor suspects a blocked tear duct, tests can determine the extent of the blockage. Testing includes:

  1. Your doctor will flush out the ducts with saline in the office.
  2. Your doctor may put a drop of a special fluorescent dye in the corner of each eye. Instead of liquid dye, your doctor may use a small paper strip containing the dye.
  3. When tears mix with the dye, it turns bright green.
  4. After 10 to 15 minutes, your doctor checks your eye, nose and throat to see if dye has drained from the eye.

Normally, tears wash the dye from the eye. If the dye remains in the eye, it tells your doctor that the tear duct is blocked. In cases where flushing the tear ducts don’t open them up, your doctor may recommend certain imaging tests to visualize any tear duct blockages. These tests may include a CT scan or a special type of X-ray, called dacryocystography. Your doctor may also use a long, flexible tube with a light source called an endoscope to examine the inside of your nasal cavity.

How are watery eyes treated?

For many people, watery eyes resolve without treatment. If your doctor recommends treatment, your plan depends on the underlying cause of your watery eyes.

  • Medications: Your doctor may recommend certain medications, like antibiotics, if an infection or eye injury causes watery eyes. If you have a condition like dry eye syndrome, your doctor prescribes artificial tears or prescription eye drops.
  • Foreign objects: If you have a foreign object in your eye, your doctor removes it.
  • Blocked tear ducts: If a blocked tear duct causes watery eyes, your doctor uses a saline solution to gently open the blocked duct. In some cases, doctors use a long, thin instrument called a probe to open tear ducts manually. If you have extensive blockages, your doctor may recommend surgery to open your tear ducts.
  • Eyelid repair: If the eyelids are sagging (entropian or extropian) the doctor will likely recommend repair of the eyelids.

When to Call the Doctor

When should I call the doctor?

Contact your ophthalmologist (eye doctor) if:

  • Watery eyes affect your ability to see clearly
  • Your eyes are painful
  • Your eyes swell, or you notice a lump in your eye
  • Your eyes will not stop watering

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 09/12/2018.

References

  • Merck Manual Professional Version. Tearing (Epiphora). (https://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/eye-disorders/symptoms-of-ophthalmologic-disorders/tearing) Accessed 9/13/2018.
  • National Health Service. Watering eyes. (https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/watering-eyes/) Accessed 9/13/2018.

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