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.

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


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