Tears serve various crucial roles in our body. They are an important component of the immune system and protect us against infection.
Generally, our bodies produce tears to keep eyes lubricated and to help remove foreign bodies and dust. But when the tear drainage is affected or the body produces too many tears, the result is extremely watery eyes. Though not certainly harmful, watery eyes can be bothersome and irritating. But, they can generally be treated rapidly and effectively.
Watering eyes are a common problem which can occur at any age, largely affecting older people and young babies. Generally, it can occur in one or both eyes. It can be due to several factors and conditions.
Its most common cause is blocked tear duct but there are many other causes. Allergies or viral infections, as well as any kind of inflammation, may cause watery eyes. Sometimes, excess tear production may also cause watery eyes. If symptoms are mild, you may not need any treatment. An operation can generally cure a blocked tear duct but other treatments depend on the cause.
Overactive tear ducts
A small gland called the lacrimal gland is present just above and to the outer side of each eye. This makes some tears constantly. The eyelid spreads the tears, when we blink, over the front of the eye. This helps to keep it moist.
Then, the tears drain down small holes called canaliculi on the inner side of the eye into a tear sac. After that, they flow down a channel named the tear duct (the nasolacrimal duct) into the nose.
Making too many tears
Anything which irritates your eye can cause you to make lots of tears. And watering act as a protective reflex which helps clear irritants away from the eye. For instance;
- Chemical irritants like onions or fumes from machines.
- Infection of the front of the eye called infective conjunctivitis.
- Allergic conjunctivitis which is an allergy causing inflammation of the front of the eye.
- Any injury or scratch to the front of the eye or a piece of dirt stuck in the eye.
Blocked drainage of tears
• This condition is quite common in babies. Like, their tear ducts tend to be narrow and cannot handle all their tears and babies cry a lot! Babies’ tears are thick and if they are blocked, they get slightly gunky. That is the reason a lot of babies have gunky eyes, even if there’s no infection. However, it generally clears by itself in some months, or surely by the age of 1 year. The only thing you need to do is wipe out the gunk with a clean cotton wool cloth and warm water.
• The tear ducts of elderly people often get narrower with age. So, the tears cannot properly drain away. Thus, making their eyes watery often. Rarely the blocked tear duct gets a minor infection. This makes the skin between the nose and eye red and sore.
Problems with eyelashes or eyelids
• The eyelashes can turn inwards in the elderly, itching the eyeball and making it painful and watery. This condition is called entropion. It can be corrected with surgery.
• As with age, the eyelids can become slightly lax and relaxed, the lower eyelids can droop outwards. Thus, tears drop out of the eye rather than draining away down the tear ducts called ectropion. It can be corrected with surgery.
Tests needed for watery eyes
The cause of watery eyes is easily identified. For instance, ectropion, entropion, infections, and conjunctivitis. If the cause is not obviously revealed by simple inspection, more tests may be recommended. These tests may depend on how bad the watering is, and how much it troubles you.
In case of any drainage problem, an eye expert may inspect the tear drainage channels, under local anesthetic. For this, they may push a thin stick called probe into the small channels (canaliculi) towards the tear sac to check if it is blocked.
If the probe goes faraway the tear sac then syringe the fluid into the tear duct. This can be done to see if it comes out in the nose. Sometimes, syringing may clear a blockage. Thus, giving temporary relief.
In case of any blockage, a dye may be injected into the tear duct. Then an X-ray picture is taken. A dye can be seen in the duct on the X-ray film. It will display just where there is any obstruction or thinning of the tear duct.
Other scans – for instance, a computerized tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan – may be started in some cases.
Treatment for watering eyes (epiphora)
Treatment of watery eyes may not be needed if the watering is not causing any problem. But basically, treatment depends on the cause.
Treating eye irritation
Often the cause of watering eyes can be treated. For instance;
- Eyelashes which irritate the front of the eye (entropion) can be removed.
- Conjunctivitis can be treated with drops.
- eye drops can help in case your eyes are infected.
- medicines can help in case you have an allergy.
- Pieces of grit, sand, etc., can be removed.
Treating tear drainage problems
Usually, babies with watery eyes grow out of it with no proper treatment.
Whereas, blockage of these channels in adults;
- There is no need for treatment if the watering is slight or does not trouble you much.
- A blocked tear duct can be treated with surgery. The typical surgery is called dacryocystorhinostomy (DCR). For this, a minute probe is passed through the blocked tear duct and can unblock it.
- DCR surgery is useful if the watering is bad sufficient to affect your activities of daily living. It is also suggested if you have had an infection in your tear sac because of the blocked tear duct. The operation may prevent repeated attacks of a red, sore swelling at the corner of the eye.
- The operation is not without its risks and should be done only if you fully understand its pros and cons.
- A narrowed small channel that is not fully blocked may be broadened by pushing in a probe.