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Watery eyes – causes and tips

by Josephine Andrews
Published: Last Updated on 302 views

Watery eyes (also: teardrops, epiphora) can have many causes – in addition to sadness and joy. It is often age-related disorders of the lacrimal system, allergies, but paradoxically also dry eyes that cause tears to flow excessively. Read more about what causes watery eyes and what you can do about it here.

quick overview

  • Causes: eg age-related changes, foreign bodies in the eye , allergies and other underlying diseases such as diabetes
  • Watery eyes – what to do? Depending on the cause, ensure a “good” eye climate (eg air rooms regularly, avoid draughts), drink enough, take breaks from computer work, have underlying diseases treated professionally
  • What remedies help with watery eyes? Depending on the cause e.g. B. “artificial tears”, allergy medications, specific medications to treat underlying conditions

Watery eyes: causes and possible diseases

In itself, a tear film is an important protective shield for sensitive eyes. It supplies the eye with oxygen, is a “lubricant” for blinking, allows air to flow smoothly, enables sharp vision and protects against mechanical foreign bodies and infections. However, the eyes should not water excessively. If they do, the balance between tear production and evacuation is disturbed .

This can have numerous triggers. The most common causes of watery eyes are age-related changes , allergies and – paradoxically – eyes that are too dry . Foreign bodies (such as inward-turned eyelashes) can also irritate the eyes and cause watering, as can an outward-turned eyelid (ectropion). Infections of the eyes, chronic infections of the bags under the eyes, and other diseases such as diabetes mellitus can also cause watery eyes. They are among the serious causes that should definitely be clarified by a doctor.

Basically, three main mechanisms can be distinguished in the development of watery eyes:

  • functional disturbance of tear drainage (e.g. disturbances in the function of the eyelid)
  • anatomical changes in the tear ducts (eg, obstruction of the tear ducts)
  • Overproduction of tear fluid (e.g. in case of irritation of the eyelids, conjunctiva , cornea)

Age-related causes of watery eyes

Most of those affected who visit the ophthalmologist for watery eyes are older people – especially women. The age-related change in hormones during menopause, but also gender-independent signs of aging can lead to functional disorders of tear drainage.

A complex musculature and surrounding connective tissue ensure the stability and function of the eyelid, the lacrimal gland and the tear pump. If the muscles and connective tissue become weaker due to hormonal changes or age, the amount of tears can no longer be regulated properly. The direct result of a malfunctioning tear pump or blocked tear ducts are watery eyes.

Typical symptoms and thus causes of watery eyes are:

  • a disturbed eyelid function
  • changes in the lacrimal gland
  • Changes in the tear pump
  • blocked tear ducts

The dry eye

In order to be able to see properly, the eyes must be sufficiently and evenly moistened with tear fluid. This liquid film is renewed with every blink and regulated by the lacrimal apparatus – lacrimal glands and lacrimal ducts. The lacrimal glands produce the tear fluid, blinking distributes it evenly over the cornea. With the help of the tear pumps, the liquid then travels through the tear ducts of the upper and lower eyelids into the lacrimal sac, from where it enters the nasal cavity via the lacrimal-nasal duct.

Indirectly, a slack blink and poorly functioning tear ducts lead to less tear fluid and thus initially to dry eyes. Because the tear film acts as a natural lubricant for blinking, the lids irritate the eye’s dry cornea with each blink. In addition, the eyes become more susceptible to infections because the healthy tear film with its germ-killing substances is missing. Even small particles stick more easily and irritate the eyes even more. The lacrimal glands then produce so-called reflex tears – watery eyes are the result.

Causes of dry eyes

Below you will find an overview of the triggers for dry eyes and subsequently watery eyes:

  • Age- and/or hormone-related decrease in tear fluid
  • Environmental factors (ozone, exhaust gases, heating air, dry room air)
  • allergies
  • contact lenses
  • Drugs (e.g. cytostatics, beta blockers, antihistamines, birth control pills)
  • internal diseases such as diabetes mellitus, thyroid disorders, inflammatory rheumatism
  • Stroke or other paralysis of the facial nerves that make it difficult to blink properly

Symptoms of dry eyes

Common symptoms of dry eyes are:

  • Foreign body sensation in the eye, burning, scratching
  • feeling of pressure in the eyes
  • Pains
  • eyelid swelling
  • discharge of mucus, glued lids
  • conjunctival redness
  • visual impairment
  • glare, photophobia
  • teary eyes

Watery eyes: You can do this yourself

You should always have watery eyes examined medically in order to rule out serious underlying diseases and prevent possible secondary diseases. If the ophthalmologist determines that environmental factors are the cause of dry eyes and thus watery eyes, you can often relieve the symptoms yourself with these simple tips:

  • Ventilate your rooms regularly and make sure that the room climate is not too dry (possibly set up an air humidifier).
  • Exercise often in the fresh air.
  • Avoid drafts, car fans, air conditioners.
  • Refrain from smoking or avoid smoky rooms.
  • Drink enough non-alcoholic and caffeine-free fluids (water, mineral water, tea).
  • When working at a screen for a long time, consciously pay attention to frequent blinking in order to repeatedly distribute tear fluid on the surface of the eyeball. Also, take frequent breaks from work. The use of “artificial tears” may also make sense.
  • Get enough sleep – tired eyes are often irritated, itchy or burning.
  • Clean the edges of your eyelids, especially to remove make-up.
  • As a contact lens wearer, you should ensure that you take longer breaks from wearing them and that you clean your lenses thoroughly and regularly. If necessary, talk to your doctor about a different lens shape (hard, soft lenses) to avoid watery eyes as a result of irritation.

Watery eyes: what does the doctor do?

The ophthalmologist will talk to you about your medical history (anamnesis). He will ask you about the type and duration of your symptoms and any concomitant diseases, among other things. This often gives important clues as to the possible causes of watery eyes.

Other clues are provided by the anatomy of your facial skull, the lacrimal glands and bags under your eyes, and the condition, position and mobility of the eyelids. Functional and diagnostic tests, such as secretion tests (to measure the amount of tear fluid), are also often revealing. Further examinations may be necessary, for example if the doctor suspects a general illness such as diabetes behind the watery eyes.

Medical treatment

The treatment by the doctor depends on the cause of the watery eyes. For example, infections of the eye can be treated with medication and eyelid malpositions can be treated surgically. The doctor can correct malfunctions of the lacrimal apparatus using certain ophthalmological methods. Eye drops (“artificial tears”) can be prescribed by the doctor if the eyes are dry or the surface of the eye is irritated.

Watery eyes: what remedies help?

Which remedies can help with watery eyes depends on the cause. If tears flow due to an allergy, appropriate antihistamines can help (caution: they can also trigger tears!). If your eyes tear because you stare at the computer screen for hours, eye drops can help. Watery eyes as a side effect of diabetes mellitus can disappear if the doctor correctly prepares the patient for blood sugar-lowering medication (oral antidiabetics, insulin ). Hormone replacement therapy may be used in women going through the menopausereduce the hormonal imbalance and thus alleviate its side effects (such as watery eyes). However, the benefits and risks of such hormone therapy must be carefully weighed against each other!

Watery eyes: when do you have to go to the doctor?

If you suffer from watery eyes, a visit to an ophthalmologist is highly recommended. On the one hand, because watery eyes – regardless of the cause – can cause long-term damage (including to the eyesight). On the other hand, because behind the symptom of watery eyes there can be serious underlying diseases that must be treated.

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