Watery Eyes — Causes and Treatment for Itchy, Watery Eyes

Tears are necessary for the lubrication of the eyes and to wash away particles and foreign substances in or around the eyes. Excessive tearing can result in watery eyes, however, which is not good.

Watery eyes

The medical term for watery eyes is epiphora, which simply means increased tearing. Epiphora has many causes, and there are many ways to alleviate the symptoms.

Epiphora happens one of two ways: either the tear drainage duct is not functioning properly or the eye is producing more tears than necessary. The production and drainage of tears is a function of the lacrimal drainage system.

The tears that bathe the surface of the eye are produced by the lacrimal gland. This gland is located above and behind the upper eyelid. When we blink, the eyelids push the tears across the eye’s surface, causing them to collect in the lower inner corner of the eye.

They then travel through the puncta and into the lacrimal sac before entering into the nasolacrimal duct. The nasolacrimal duct connects the eye and nose. Once the tears enter the duct, they travel down the nose and into the throat.

Meanwhile… new tears are produced by the lacrimal gland, and the process begins again.

Infants and babies with watery eyes:

You may have noticed that infants have unusually teary eyes. This is because newborns may not have fully developed tear ducts. It takes weeks for a infant to begin producing tears, and it may be several weeks before their nasolacrimal canal, which contains the duct, opens up.

Most babies’ tear ducts open up within the first year of life. Parents of babies whose ducts are not fully opened by then (a condition known as dacryostenosis, which affects approximately 30 percent of infants) are encouraged to massage the skin overlying the tear ducts to help speed up the process.

If this does not work, an ophthalmologist can perform a probing procedure to open the ducts and stop the watery eyes.

It is important to remember that excessive tearing is not an emergency. Yes it can be annoying, but it can also be treated easily. 

What Should I Expect From Watery Eyes?

Additional symptoms can accompany watery eyes. Such symptoms include:

Tearing is not always an emergency. Yet if red eyes, excess discharge, pain, or tenderness around the nose is present alongside the tearing, contact your doctor immediately. Each of these symptoms indicates a more serious problem. 

Why Do I Have Watery Eyes?

As stated above, watery eyes is due to one of two problems: either the eye is producing more tears than necessary, or the tear duct that drains the tears is not functioning.

There are many possible causes for increased tears, which are a symptom in a majority of eye-related conditions and diseases. But once you find the culprit, treatment options come into focus. Causes of watery eyes can include:

  • Dry Eye Syndrome
  • Clogged tear ducts
  • Conjunctivitis
  • Environmental irritants such as chemicals, smog, hot wind, bright lights, blowing dust, and airborne allergens
  • Blepharitis
  • Abrasions
  • Foreign bodies
  • Allergies to mold, dust, and dander
  • Eyelids turning either inward or outward
  • Aging

Ironically, one of the biggest causes of watery eyes is dry eye syndrome. Dry eye syndrome causes eye discomfort, which triggers the production of tears. Your doctor will probably check to see whether you suffer from dry eye before moving on to other tests. 

Should I See My Eye Doctor About My Watery Eyes?

To diagnose watery eyes, an eye doctor will ask you questions about your medical history, symptoms, and lifestyle. Your doctor will give you a thorough eye exam and possibly a physical exam in order to determine the cause of your watery eyes. He or she may also take a culture of a tear specimen. Once the cause of the watery eyes is identified, a treatment plan can be created.

How Can I Relieve My Watery Eyes?

First, it is very important to consider what is causing the excess tear production in your eyes before seeking any form of treatment. Knowing the cause can save you money and time. Artificial tears can help re-wet your eyes if they are dry or burning.

If your eyes are irritated or itchy, the excess tear production could be the result of an allergy. Over-the-counter topical anti-allergy drops like Zaditor or Alaway could be the solution, or better yet… you can see a doctor who will prescribe prescription topical anti-allergy drops such as Lastacaft or Bepreve for your watery eyes and other allergy-related symptoms.

If you are experiencing discharge from your eyes, the cause could be a blocked tear duct or eyelid problem. Your doctor may want to do a drainage procedure or similar surgery to reduce the symptoms. Correcting improper eyelid positions with minor surgery is one option. If an infection is to blame, your doctor will prescribe you antibiotics.

Relief for older and younger generations:

Many older people experience drier eyes as they age, which can lead to an increase in tear production. Older people should see their eye-care providers more often to catch any problems they experience before they worsen.

But regardless of your age, it is wise to protect your eyes at all times. If you spend time outside, wear sunglasses to shield your eyes from the UV rays, to protect against particles and airborne debris, and to reduce glare.

Likewise, children and infants can also experience extra tear production. Some infants are born with a narrow tear duct. If this happens, chances are the duct will widen itself within the first year of life and the watery eyes will stop.

Furthermore… children who suffer from eye infections will get antibiotics. Probing is also possible for children and infants. The procedure is painless and is meant to open up the blockage.

How Long Will I Have Watery Eyes?

The outlook for watery eyes is typically good. As a result, treatment will begin as soon as your doctor determines the cause. In most cases, watery eyes clear up within hours or days. Healing times will vary depending on the type of treatment selected.

For example, watery eyes due to allergies may stop within an hour if you take antihistamines, but if you need surgery, it may take weeks to solve the problem.

How Can I Prevent Watery Eyes?

Most of all, watery eyes are due to a problem within the lacrimal system. So it’s important to take steps to ensure that the system never breaks down. Here are some tips to help you prevent watery eyes:

  • Protect your eyes from sunlight, injury, and burns by wearing protective eyewear such as sunglasses, goggles, or a face-mask as much as possible.
  • Always stay away from known allergens or take precautions before entering an environment that contains a known allergen (e.g., take an oral antihistamine thirty minutes prior to entering the environment).
  • Eat a well-balanced diet throughout your life.
  • Do not touch or rub your eyes when they become itchy and irritated.
  • Avoid coming into contact with people who have viral or bacterial infections. If you have a viral or bacterial infection, take precautions to avoid spreading your infection. Sterilize common household items, wash your hands frequently, and do not share linens, make-up, or eye drops.
  • Wash your hands frequently to avoid the spread of germs.
  • As you get older, visit your eye doctor more frequently for routine eye exams.

Talking to Your Eye Doctor

Here are some questions to ask your eye doctor about watery eyes:

  • Which over-the-counter products can treat my watery eyes?
  • What is causing my watery eyes? Which conditions have you ruled out?
  • What treatment options do I have? If those fail, what are my next options?
  • How long will it be before I get relief?
  • At what point should I consider this a medical emergency?

Did you know … blockage of tear ducts in infants is common, affecting 6 percent of all newborns?

Sources and References:
We have strict guidelines for each of our sources and references. We rely upon vision, eye and medical information from peer-reviewed studies, medical associations and academic research institions.
  • J. DiGirolamo, MD “The Big Book of Family Eye Care” (Basic Health Publications, 2011) 90-91
  • J. Weizer, MD; J. Stein, MD, MS “Reader’s Digest Guide to Eye Care” (Quantum Publishing, 2009) 100-104