Excess tearing is not a serious health condition, but it can certainly be annoying and uncomfortable. It is also treatable.
Increased tear production is natural under certain conditions, but persistent tearing may indicate overproduction or a drainage issue.
Are my watery eyes normal or problematic?
Common Symptoms of Excess Tearing
Persistently Watery EyesSmoke, cold weather, wind, and other factors can momentarily cause excessive tearing, and this is normal. However, if you find that your eyes frequently water, you should speak with a doctor.
Eye PainExcessive tearing can cause ocular discomfort in addition to the ongoing annoyance of having watery eyes.
Vision ImpairmentExcessively watery eyes can compromise your vision, making reading, driving, and other functions difficult and frustrating.
Age, Gender, and Health
Persistently watery eyes can affect patients of any age. In fact, it is common for infants to experience watery eyes due to blocked tear ducts. Tear ducts can also become narrower with age, or become partially obstructed due to injury or health issues such as polyps. Meanwhile, women are more prone to having allergies and developing dry eye syndrome (which can cause watery eyes).
Causes of Persistent Tearing
Diseases and Allergies
Dry eye syndrome, contrary to what the name suggests, can result in excess tearing as the eye struggles to compensate for dryness and irritation. Sinusitis, allergies, blepharitis (inflamed eyelids), keratitis (inflammation of the cornea), diabetes, and conjunctivitis can also result in ongoing excess tear production.
Medications and TherapiesMedications such as chemotherapy drugs, epinephrine, and eye drops containing echothiophate iodide and pilocarpine can cause excessive tearing. Radiation therapy can also cause excess tears.
Physical ObstructionsIf the opening of your tear duct is narrow, closed, or mispositioned, it will obstruct the necessary outflow of tears, resulting in watery eyes. Because the eyelids act as a pump to move tears through the tear duct, conditions such as Bell’s palsy, ectropion (eyelid turned outward), and entropion (eyelid turned inward) can cause watery eyes.
Always stay away from known allergens or take precautions before entering an environment that contains a known allergen (e.g., take an oral antihistamine thirty minutes prior to entering the environment). Dr. William Trattler, Florida International University College of Medicine Consultant
Minimize Your Risk of Excess Tearing
Seek Prompt CareConsulting a physician at the earliest signs of a complication is usually the best way to resolve any health issue and prevent the onset of more pronounced symptoms.
Use Eye ProtectionIf you work around machinery or outdoors in an occupation that places you at risk of foreign objects entering your eye, it is highly advisable to wear sunglasses or protective eyewear.
Do Not Share Eye ProductsMakeup, eye drops, and other products that are applied near or directly to the eyes should never be shared. This is an easy way to prevent contracting diseases that can lead to watery eyes.
Simple Tests Can Identify the Cause
Discussing your symptoms and medical history can help your doctor determine which tests are most likely to provide information on your condition.
Tear Drainage Tests
Your doctor can use a special saline solution to gauge the drainage rate of your tear ducts. In some cases, x-rays may be necessary to reveal an obstruction.
Your doctor may perform one or several tests to determine the cause of excess tearing.
Testing for Dry Eye, Allergies, Conjunctivitis, Etc.
Your doctor may conduct any number of tests to determine if an illness is causing your excessive tearing. This can involve a visual exam, or a test of your tear quality (which is often compromised in those suffering from dry eye syndrome). In some cases, your doctor may recommend a fluorescein stain, which involves placing dye on the surface of the eye to reveal any foreign objects. The doctor will also look for any corneal scratches or abrasions.
Treatment Varies Based on the Cause
Addressing DiseaseIf your doctor determines that allergies, dry eye, or another condition is contributing to excessive tearing, your treatment could range from prescription eye drops to antibiotics (often recommended for conjunctivitis).
SurgeryIf your tear ducts are blocked, or if you suffer from an in-turned or out-turned eyelid, your doctor may recommend surgery. Blocked tear ducts are often addressed by creating a drainage canal from the tear sac to the nose. Eyelid issues may be corrected using sutures to turn the eyelid in the correct direction.
Simple At-Home TreatmentsSome tear duct blockages can be treated and prevented by placing a warm wet washcloth over your eyes several times per day. If your watery eyes are the result of a condition such as blepharitis, a special cleaning regimen prescribed by your doctor may be sufficient to reduce inflammation and help to prevent excess tearing.
Meet with Your Doctor
If you notice anything unusual or uncomfortable about your eyes, the best course of action is to consult a doctor right away. The cause of excess tearing is usually not difficult for a doctor to identify, and with the proper treatment, you can quickly achieve relief.