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HealthInfo Waitaha Canterbury

Watery eyes

Ngā karu waiwai

Our bodies produce tears to keep our eyes lubricated and to help remove any foreign bodies. When it's cold or windy or when something gets into our eyes, it's normal to produce a lot of tears. But when we produce too many tears or our tears cannot drain properly from our eyes, we get watery eyes (also called epiphora) and tears constantly roll onto our cheeks. This isn't normal.

You can get watery eyes at any age, but it's more common in young pēpi (babies) and in people over the age of 60. It can affect one or both eyes.

If you also have red eyes, discharge from your eyes, pain in your eye or nose or if your eyes have been watering a lot for a long time, see your optometrist, ophthalmologist (eye doctor) or general practice team.

Causes of watery eyes

Tear ductsTwo things are likely to cause watery eyes:

Too many tears

Too many tears are usually caused by irritation or inflammation on the surface of your eye. This can happen for several reasons, including eyelash and eyelid problems or allergies. Oddly, a dry eye problem can sometimes cause watery eyes because the eye produces excess tears to combat the irritation and dryness.

Poor tear drainage

Your tears might not be draining properly because you have:

Some pēpi are born with a tear duct that has not fully opened. This usually opens fully by one year, without any treatment. If this applies to your pēpi, clear any discharge from their lids with warm water. Pēpi usually do not need to use antibiotic drops.

Symptoms of watery eyes

The most obvious symptom of watery eyes is having tears running or dripping from your eyes. But other things may also indicate you have watery eyes, even if tears aren't running down your cheeks. These include:

Diagnosing watery eyes

Sometimes the cause of your watery eyes will be obvious, such as if you have an infection, turned-in lashes or conjunctivitis. If the cause isn't obvious, you'll need more tests to find out what is happening. Contact your optometrist or ophthalmologist (eye doctor).

Treating watery eyes

The treatment will depend on what is causing your watery eyes. If you're producing too many tears, it may involve:

Surgery might help if your eyelids are turned outwards (this is called ectropion). This is a common operation. It's done with a local anaesthetic injection that numbs the area.

If your tears aren't draining properly, you're likely to have surgery to help them drain. The usual operation makes a new channel to the inside of your nose, which your tears can drain through. The operation is called a dacrocystorhinostomy (dac-ro-sys-toe-rhi-nos-tomy) or DCR. Another less common operation uses a tiny balloon to make the tear duct wider or inserts a small device (called a stent) to hold the tear duct open.

To help avoid watery eyes, make sure you wear sunglasses when you're outside to protect your eye from UV rays and dust and reduce glare.

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Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed March 2023.

Sources

Page reference: 141617

Review key: HIWES-141617