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HealthInfo Canterbury

Causes of watery eyes

tear productionOur tears have three layers: an oil layer on top, a water layer in the middle and a mucus layer at the bottom. The oil is produced by the meibomian glands, which are on the edges of our eyelids. It stops our tears from evaporating too quickly.

The water is made in our lacrimal glands, which are just above the outside edge of our eyes. The goblet cells, which are on the whites of our eyes, make the mucus, which helps the tears stick to our eyes.

When you blink, your eyelids spread the tears over your eyes to keep them moist. The tears then drain through your tear ducts into your nose.

Two things are likely to cause watery eyes:

Too many tears

You are likely to make too many tears if the surface of your eye is irritated or inflamed. This might happen because you have:

Poor tear drainage

Your tears might not be draining properly because you have:

Some babies are born with a tear duct that hasn't fully opened. This usually opens fully by one year, without any treatment. If this applies to your baby, clear any discharge from their lids with warm water. Babies usually don't 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:

On the next page: Diagnosing and treating watery eyes

Written by Canterbury optometrists. Adapted by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Endorsed by clinical director, Ophthalmology, Canterbury DHB. Last reviewed November 2019.


Page reference: 141857

Review key: HIWES-141617