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Watering Eyes (Epiphora)

What is a Watering Eye?

Epiphora is a common condition in which tears cannot exit the eye and pour over the eyelids causing a watering eye.

Signs and Symptoms of a Watering Eye

Common symptoms of the epiphora are tears running over the eyelids, dermatitis of the eyelids, and crusting and mattering of the eyelashes.

What Causes a Watering Eye?

Watering eyes can have many causes. Here are a few examples:

  • Dry Eyes: ironically, dry eye is a common cause of a watering eye. We have two types of tears. The first type of tears are secreted by glands inside the eyelids and keep the eye moist and lubricated. The second type of tears are reflex tears which are stored in the lacrimal gland above the eye and are secreted in volumes when you cry, get something in your eye or when an irritation to the ocular surface occurs. When the first type of tears are inadequate as in a dry eye situation, the eye becomes irritated causing the reflex tears to be released. The eye’s drainage system cannot handle this volume of tears so the tears pour over top of the eyelids causing a watering eye.
  • Environmental irritants: these can include bright sunlight, hot or cold air blowing across the eyes, chemical irritants in the air, or contact lens irritants. These irritants then cause the lacrimal gland to dump reflex tears.
  • Conjunctivitis: conjunctivitis or pinkeye caused by an eye infection or allergies (link to eye allergy page) creates discharge into the tears as well as causes the surface of the eye to swell. A swollen eye does not allow the discharge to properly drain resulting in a watering eye.
  • Blocked tear duct (puncta): each eye has two drainpipes for tears called puncta. They are located in the nasal corners of the upper and lower eyelids. Proper tear drainage requires the puncta to be open similar to a drain in your house. Any obstruction of these puncta will cause overflow of tears and a watering eye. This is a common problem in newborn babies which usually resolves within the first year.
  • Age: As we get older, our eyelid skin loosens and does not keep the eyelids tight against the eyes to channel the tears towards the puncta. Also, the drainpipes from the puncta to the back of the nose harden with age and restrict outflow.

How is a Watering Eye Diagnosed?

Epiphora is usually diagnosed by symptoms and an evaluation by your optometrist who will use a slit lamp (lighted microscope) to examine the eyelid structures, quality of the tears, and check for any infections or inflammations.

How is a Watering Eye Treated?

Treatment for a watering eye is based on the cause of the problem. Simple lubrication drops can be very helpful with epiphora caused by dry eyes. Any conjunctivitis must be properly treated to increase tear flow. Environmental irritants should be avoided as much as possible. Sunglasses are a must in bright light. Proper contact lenses must be selected to minimize irritations. Blocked tear ducts can be opened with minor surgical procedures.

What Steps Should I Take If I Think I Have A Watering Eye?

If your eyes are watering and you feel that you have epiphora, we recommend you make an appointment to see Dr. Reinders as soon as possible. Although epiphora is generally not a serious condition, it can be annoying and can lead to eyelid dermatitis and infection. Dr. Reinders has over 22 years of experience in treating watering eyes and related conditions.