Understanding Vision

Health Problem: Watery Eyes

If your eyes are constantly watery, an eye condition may be the cause.

16 October 2021
  • Tears eye and 2 fingers

When laughing or crying, it is completely normal: the tear ducts open and the tears flow. But when your eyes begin to water without any apparent reason, an eye condition may be the reason. There is no need to worry though, as these problems can usually be solved quickly. 

Crying out of joy, anger or rage, from being touched or worried– these are normal human reactions. Tears also have a purifying effect. There is an enzyme in their fluid that hampers bacteria and stops infection. Particular vapors, such as the fumes that arise from chopping onions, can also trigger tears. But if your eyes are watery and there is no apparent reason why, there is a range of possible causes.

There are many possible causes of watery eyes

One of the most common reasons for watery eyes is conjunctivitis. This is an irritation or infection of the conjunctiva, or the white area of the eye. In such occasions, a typical symptom besides watery eyes is a very visible red coloration. Doctors differentiate between infectious and non-infectious variants. Infectious conjunctivitis is caused by a virus or bacterium, while causes of the non-infectious conjunctivitis include allergies, irritation from very bright light, foreign particles or chemicals. In both cases you are advised to contact an eye care professional urgently and describe the symptoms. Since the illness is infectious, you should receive an appointment quickly.

Antibiotics help with bacterial infections. Otherwise, it is usually sufficient to avoid the triggers. An extra tip: in order to dry your watery eyes, you should use tissues. It is also advisable to wash your hands regularly. In this way, you can prevent the infection from being transmitted. In addition, people who have been infected should avoid wearing contact lenses; they should instead wear their glasses.

Another common cause of watery eyes is a poorly corrected vision problem, which causes the eye to work much harder in order to be able to see properly. Optimal and individually customized prescription eyeglass lenses, such as the  ZEISS Progressive Individual 2 Lenses, can be very helpful.

Watery eyes are also sometimes caused by a poor composition of the tear fluid. In addition to a large amount of water, our tears are also composed of proteins and a protective lipid layer on the upper layer of the tear film. The result is that the tear film does not adhere properly to the surface of the eye and drains off downwards. In such a case, your eye care professional can help with special drops.

Other possible causes for watery eyes are injuries to the surface of the cornea from foreign particles or scratches. The body responds to such injuries by producing significantly more tears. Also, some people’s eyelids may be improperly positioned. Experts speak then of an entropium, a downward-turning eyelid, or an ectropium, an upward-turning eyelid. Depending on the severity of the problem, a corrective operation may be required.  

A man sits in front of laptop and is rubbing his eyes

Dry eyes may also cause eyes to water

It sounds paradoxical, but eyes which are too dry  can also be the cause of watery eyes. The reason is that after a longer phase of your eyes being too dry, they then frequently begin to produce too much tear fluid. Medicine can remedy this problem.    

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    Sliney DH. Physical factors in cataractogenesis: ambient ultraviolet radiation and temperature. Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci. 1986 May;27(5):781-90.

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    A range of healthcare bodies and studies have come to the conclusion that complete UV protection can only be guaranteed with a filter up to 400 nm. They include: the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP); Health Physics. (2004): 87(2) 171-186, American Conference of Governmental and Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH), ISO 21348 (definitions of Solar Irradiance Spectral Categories), Australian Sunlens Standard AS/NZS 1067:2003