What Causes Watery Eyes?

Watery eyes are generally not a cause for concern, but there are times when it could indicate a deeper problem. To understand what causes watery eyes and when to see an eye doctor, it’s important to know what role tears play in the body. 

What Do Tears Do? 

Tears keep the eyes lubricated and wash away particles and dust. They’re also a part of the immune system that protects the eyes from bacteria and infection.

The glands are responsible for producing tears, and they are normally discharged through your tear ducts. As long as you produce a normal amount of tears, they’ll evaporate and you won’t notice much. 

However, if there’s an excessive production of tears, your tear ducts will be overwhelmed. Usually, watery eyes go away on their own, but it can sometimes become a chronic problem, especially when accompanied by other symptoms like redness and itchiness.

What Causes the Eyes to Water Excessively? 

You’ve probably noticed that when you do certain things – laugh, cough, vomit, yawn – your eyes produce more tears. But if your eyes are tearing for none of those reasons, it could be from dry eye syndrome. 

Dry eye syndrome can cause you to produce excess tears because your eyes aren’t getting enough moisture. It’s hard to stop this cycle because the eyes are always dry and the glands keep producing tears. Fortunately, a simple test can diagnose dry eye syndrome, and your eye doctor can prescribe a safe and effective medication.

If dry eye syndrome is not to blame, it’s possible that another problem is going on: 

  • Allergies. If you have allergies, your body creates histamine to fight off the allergen. Histamine can then cause the eyes to be red and itchy. Colds and sinus problems can also cause this symptom.
  • Eye strain. Eye strain is one of the most common causes of watery eyes. If you work at a computer, make sure to take regular breaks and exercise the eyes. Additional symptoms of eye strain include headaches, blurry vision and back pain. 
  • Infections. Infections like blepharitis (inflammation of the eyelid) and conjunctivitis can cause excessive tearing. If it’s a bacterial infection, your retina specialist may prescribe antibiotic ointments and drops. 
  • Blocked tear ducts. When you have a blocked tear duct, your tears can’t drain properly. This is most common in infants and is usually not serious. However, it can be serious in adults and require surgery. 
  • Environmental factors. Certain things in the environment can irritate the eyes and cause excessive watering, such as smog and bright lights. Even certain weather conditions (smog, wind, dust) can cause eye watering. 

When to See Your Eye Doctor 

Most of the time, watery eyes resolve on their own. But if the symptom is persistent, interfering with your life or accompanied by other symptoms, schedule an eye exam with your ophthalmologist. A number of treatments are available, including prescription eye drops and antibiotics.