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Watery eyes

Watery eyes: Symptom — Overview covers definition, possible causes of excess tearing.

Definition

Watery eyes (epiphora) tear persistently or excessively.

Depending on the cause, watery eyes may clear up on their own. Self-care measures at home can help treat watery eyes, particularly if the cause is inflammation or dry eyes.

Causes

Watery eyes can be due to many factors and conditions.

In infants, persistent watery eyes, often with some matter, are commonly the result of blocked tear ducts. The tear ducts don't produce tears, but rather carry away tears, similar to how a storm drain carries away rainwater. Tears normally drain into your nose through tiny openings (puncta) in the inner part of the lids near the nose. In babies, the tear duct may not be fully open and functioning for the first several months of life.

In older adults, persistent watery eyes may occur as the aging skin of the eyelids sags away from the eyeball, allowing tears to accumulate and flow out.

Sometimes, excess tear production may cause watery eyes as well.

Allergies or viral infections (conjunctivitis), as well as any kind of inflammation, may cause watery eyes for a few days or so.

Medication causes

  • Chemotherapy drugs
  • Epinephrine
  • Eyedrops, especially echothiophate iodide and pilocarpine

Common causes

  • Allergies
  • Blepharitis (which is eyelid inflammation)
  • Blocked tear duct
  • Common cold
  • Corneal abrasion (scratch): First aid
  • Corneal ulcer
  • Dry eyes (caused by decreased production of tears)
  • Ectropion (a condition in which the eyelid turns outward)
  • Entropion (a condition in which the eyelid turns inward)
  • Foreign object in the eye: First aid
  • Hay fever (allergic rhinitis)
  • Ingrown eyelash (trichiasis)
  • Keratitis (which is inflammation of the cornea)
  • Pink eye (conjunctivitis)
  • Stye (sty) (a red, painful lump near the edge of your eyelid)
  • Tear duct infection
  • Trachoma

Other causes

  • Bell's palsy
  • Blow to the eye or other eye injury
  • Burns
  • Chemical splash in the eye: First aid
  • Chronic sinusitis
  • Granulomatosis with polyangiitis
  • Inflammatory diseases
  • Radiation therapy
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Sarcoidosis
  • Sjogren's syndrome
  • Stevens-Johnson syndrome
  • Surgery of the eye or nose
  • Tumors affecting the tear drainage system

When to see a doctor

Seek immediate medical attention if you have watery eyes with:

  • Reduced vision
  • Pain around your eyes
  • A foreign body sensation

Watery eyes may clear up on their own. If the problem results from dry eyes or eye irritation, you may find it helpful to use artificial tears or place warm compresses over your eyes for several minutes. If watery eyes persist, make an appointment with your doctor. If necessary, he or she may refer you to an eye doctor (ophthalmologist).

Last Updated: June 11th, 2022