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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

Causes

Your eyes are always making tears. These tears leave 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:

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

Treatment depends on the cause of the problem. Therefore it is important to determine the cause before treating yourself at home.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Tearing is rarely an emergency. You should seek help right away if:

  • Chemicals gets into the eye
  • You have severe pain, bleeding, or loss of vision
  • You have a severe injury to the eye

Also, 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 Office Visit

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. 4th ed. St. Louis, Mo: Mosby Elsevier; 2013:chap 12.15.


Review Date: 12/4/2013
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, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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