Why are my eyes watery?
My eyes are watery, but I'm not crying! We've all had that feeling of tears coming out our eyes but we're not upset. There can be other reasons for watery eyes besides our emotions, as this blog post, put together by our head office team explains.
Usually, we only think about our tears at the end of a sad movie or when something bad has happened to someone close to us, but we are constantly making them. In fact, it is estimated that the average person produces between 56 and 113 litres of tears every year. In this article we will cover why you might develop watery eyes, the three types of tears, the symptoms, and the surprising causes of watery eyes.
All throughout the day and night, the lacrimal glands (located just the upper eyelids) produce tears that coat and nourish our eyes with every blink. These tears keep our eyes from getting dried out and inflamed and they protect our corneas from damage. Typically, the system works smoothly. But sometimes, we can get too much of a good thing. Like when we get too many tears. Watery eyes are frustrating and inconvenient.
Three types of tears
The tear system is important, but it can create excess tears. To understand how watery eyes come about, it’s helpful to know that there are actually three different types of tears: emotional, reflexive and basal.
When we are overcome with emotion, we produce emotional tears, which are a form of stress relief. Emotional tears contain hormones, including the stress hormone adrenocorticotropic (ACTH). Crying is not just an emotional release, it helps the body get rid of this hormone, and literally pours the stress out of our bodies.
When your eyes are exposed to irritants, like smoke or chopped onions, they produce tears in response. These are reflex tears, and they well up in your eyes spontaneously. Reflex tears contain antibodies and enzymes to ward off infection and eliminate irritation.
Basal tears act like a shield for your eyes. Every time you blink, these tears are spread across the surface of our eyes, constantly nourishing, protecting, and lubricating them.
The seven surprising causes of watery eyes
Watery eyes are a symptom of an underlying problem. Most are fairly common, but here are seven surprising reasons that can trigger watery eyes…
1. You have spent too much time on the computer
It is scientifically proven that people blink less when they are working or just relaxing in front of screens. Remember the 20-20-20 rule to relieve digital eye strain: each time you use your digital device, take a 20 second break from the screen every 20 minutes and look at something 20 feet away.
2. Your contacts
If you are wearing your contact lenses for too long or if they aren’t the right fit, it could cause your eyes to overproduce tears in response.
3. Your makeup
When eyeliner is applied between the eyelashes and the eyes, it can hit the eyeball and cause irritation, which causes tears to flush out the irritation.
4. Sleep apnoea
Millions of people are affected by sleep apnoea, a chronic condition that interrupts breathing during sleep. Instead of the eyes staying closed throughout the night, they flop open and dry out, which causes more tear production.
5. Environmental factors
It might be too dry where you are. Your eyes are extremely sensitive organs that are constantly adjusting to changes in humidity, heat and allergens in the air, as tears wash away irritants. Chances are, you are overproducing tears because your eyes have noticed a change in your environment before you have.
6. You have scratched your eye without knowing it
Your sensitive corneas are producing tears in response to a scratch you don’t remember.
7. Ironically, it could be dry eye
One of the most common reasons for watery eyes is chronic dry eyes. And although patients are routinely surprised to learn their eyes are watering because they are dry, the explanation makes sense. Because of an imbalance in the tears that are being produced, your eyes get irritated, which causes the overproduction of tears to fix the problem, which continues the cycle.
If your dry eye symptoms persist, make an appointment with your local Eyecare Plus optometrist who can determine the underlying cause and develop a treatment plan to address it.
Symptoms of watery eyes
Simply put, the main symptom of watery eyes is excessive water in your eyes. Your eyes feel overly moist, tears pool up, or spill onto your cheeks and your vision can be blurry.
Watery eyes is formally known as ‘epiphora,’ and it can be caused by many reasons, but usually, it comes down to a problem with your tear drainage system or overproduction. That is: either your eyes aren’t draining tears properly, or your eyes are producing too many tears. If you have insufficient tear film drainage from the eye they can overflow onto your face.
In the inner part of the eyelids near the nose, we have tear ducts. These little openings act like storm drains for tears, the tears drain from your eyes through tiny openings (called ‘puncta’). Blocked tear ducts are the most common cause of watery eyes.
Problems with our tear ducts is a common cause for watery eyes in older people.
As we age, our eyelids often sag away from the eye, making it hard for tears to move through their proper path toward the drainage ducts. Then the tears just pool up in the eye and drip out instead of draining away down the tear ducts. While the condition can sometimes be addressed medically, sometimes it is just the result of getting older.
Anything that irritates the eyes can cause the production of tears. Often allergies or viral infections– like conjunctivitis (‘pink eye’) or any type of inflammation can cause watery eyes to persist for several days. In other cases, the overproduction of tears is triggered by an injury, a scratch, or debris in the eyes.
There are also a number of surprising things that can cause your eyes to water (see our list of ‘7 Surprising Causes of Watery Eyes’ above).
Watery eyes treatment
Treatment of watery eyes usually involves medication, removal of irritants or unblocking the blocked tear duct. For many people, their watery eyes are a mild case of epiphora, and they get better without treatment.
However, if watery eyes are affecting your ability to see clearly, or your eyes are painful and will not stop watering, book an appointment with us to discuss further.
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This website does not provide medical advice. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately dial Triple 0 (000).