9 Reasons Why Your Eyes Are Watery and What To Do About It

There are many reasons why people get watery eyes, from dirt or dust, to conditions like seasonal allergies, pink eye, and blocked tear ducts.

Close up of woman's eyelashes
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Tears protect your eye surface, help your eyes heal when hurt, and provide comfort to your peepers, according to a 2020 review of studies published in Experimental Eye Research.

Something as simple as laughing or yawning can cause your eyes to water; so can spending too much time in bright light or in front of screens. None of these is cause for worry.

But making too many tears can also be a sign of trouble. If you have watery eyes with vision changes, pain, a lump near the tear duct, or the feeling of something in your eyes that won't go away, contact a healthcare provider.

Also, seek help if the tearing doesn't go away. Your constant tearing could be due to one of these causes.

Oil Gland Dysfunction

The meibomian glands are located in the eyelids and produce the oily part of tears. That oil prevents the water in our tears from evaporating, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology. If the glands aren't producing enough oil–or not enough of the right quality oil–you could end up with a condition called dry eye.

Having dry eyes is one of the most common causes of teary eyes because your eyes make tears to ease dryness.

"Putting a clean, hot towel over your eyelids can help open up the oil glands," Dr. Rajiv Shah, assistant professor of ophthalmology at Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, explained. You can also gently massage your eyelids to help increase oil production.

Cleaning along the lash line with eyelid cleanser or watered-down baby shampoo might also help unblock oil gland openings, according to a 2020 study published in Medicine.

Dry Eyes

Even if your oil glands are working fine, you can still have dryness that leads to too many tears. If you don't address the cause, the tearing will continue.

Dry eye has multiple causes, including diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, over-the-counter allergy medicines, and being around smoke or wind. Dry eye is also more common as people age, especially in menopausal and postmenopausal people, according to a 2017 review of literature published in the Journal of Mid-Life Health.

Talk to a healthcare provider about over-the-counter eye drops and prescription medications for dry eyes.

Blocked Tear Ducts

Special glands in your eyes make tears, which wash over the eye and drain out through small holes, called lacrimal puncta, in the corner of your eyes. If those openings are blocked, tears will build up.

The nasolacrimal duct, which discharges tears into the nose, can also become blocked in adults because of an injury, an infection, inflammation, or (rarely) a tumor. Aging can also cause the tear ducts to narrow.

Blocked nasolacrimal ducts are pretty common in babies, especially newborns. About 50% of infants' blocked tear ducts resolve on their own with time or with special massage, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology.

In adults, healthcare providers might prescribe antibiotics if an infection could be causing blocked nasolacrimal ducts and watery eyes. In some cases, they will go in and open them up.

"If it doesn't go away, we have to do surgery," explained Kim Le, MD, a pediatric ophthalmologist with the Henry Ford Health System in Detroit. Fortunately, that surgery is usually quick and simple.

Allergies

Allergies and colds can cause your eyes to water.

Try avoiding allergens as much as possible. Depending on your specific allergy, that could mean staying inside more during pollen season, keeping dust in the house to a minimum, or limiting time with cats and dogs.

For allergies and colds, over-the-counter eye drops and allergy medicines can help. Consider asking a healthcare provider about prescription-strength remedies too.

Conjunctivitis

The same viruses that can cause the common cold, sore throat, or bronchitis can also cause pink eye, or conjunctivitis, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Pink eye is an infection in your eye membranes; bacteria can also cause it.

Teary eyes are just one pink eye symptom. You'll likely also have itching, redness, and pain.

Most cases clear up on their own, according to the CDC, but some may require medication. In the meantime, a cool, wet cloth over your eyes may ease your symptoms.

All cases are very contagious. Prevent spreading by not touching your eyes, washing your hands regularly, and frequently cleaning pillowcases, sheets, and towels.

Styes

Styes are little red bumps that grow on your eyelid or lash line and may cause them to tear up a lot. Bacterial infections cause most styes, and they often hurt.

"They're like pimples on the eyelid," said Dr. Bibiana Reiser, assistant professor of ophthalmology at the Keck School of Medicine, University of Southern California, and director of cornea and glaucoma services at Children's Hospital of Los Angeles.

Styes are not serious, but they are annoying. A warm compress can help speed healing. Your healthcare provider might need to drain a stye that sticks around for more than a few weeks.

Whatever you do, don't squeeze a stye yourself since that can spread the infection.

Cornea Problems

The cornea is your eye's clear outer layer. It's the first line of defense against germs, dirt, and anything else that could get into your eyes.

Anything that bothers your cornea can also make your eyes water—whether it's a dust particle, a sore, or a scratch. A scratched cornea is one of the most common eye injuries, according to StatPearls.

If a cornea issue is causing your watery eyes, you may also have redness, pain, and sensitivity to light.

Many problems with the cornea don't need to be treated, while others may require medication or surgery. Talk to your healthcare provider if the irritation doesn't go away or if you have other symptoms.

Bell's Palsy

Bell's palsy happens when half of your face becomes weak due to the paralysis of a nerve in your brain, according to a National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke fact sheet. It can interfere with blinking or make it so your eyelids can't close properly, which can dry your eyes. Blinking helps spread your tears.

Experts aren't sure what causes Bell's palsy, but most cases go away within a few months and sometimes much sooner. In fact, more than 70% of cases studied went away without treatment, according to StatPearls.

"In the meantime, lubricate your eyes with artificial tears," said Dr. Le. But avoid products that promise to "get the red out." The more you use those products, the more you need them, according to Dr. Le.

Other Eyelid Problems

Even if you don't have Bell's palsy, you may have problems with your eyelids or eyelashes that can also dry out your eyes and then make them teary.

Eyelids that turn outward (ectropion) or inward (entropion) can cause watery eyes. If just the eyelashes turn in, they might rub the eyes and cause them to water. Artificial tears and ointments can help ease irritation, although surgery might occasionally be needed to correct the condition, according to StatPearls.

Sometimes eyelid problems are a natural sign of aging. As we age, our eyelids' skin tends to sag, which may cause impaired tear secretion, according to a 2022 article published in Developments in Health Sciences.

In conclusion, there are lots of reasons why your eyes could be watery. Some are temporary and will go away on their own, while you might need some help for others. The best treatment for watery eyes is identifying and treating the underlying cause.

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