The main causes of watering eyes


Watering eyes - known clinically as “epiphora”, are a very common symptom. It happens when the

tears overflow from the eyelids and down the face.


The cause is very rarely serious, however, as it often leads to irritation of the eyes and eyelids, it can be a very annoying symptom to suffer from and nullifying the problem can be a great relief. There are many different causes of watering eyes, however, they can be grouped into two categories:

  1. Overproduction of tears

  2. Poor drainage of tears

Overproduction of tears


Tears are produced by the body to keep the eye lubricated, comfortable and to wash away any debris that comes into contact with the eye. As a result of this, if the eyes become irritated or inflamed, the body will respond by producing extra tears which can overflow, resulting in watering. The irritation can be caused by numerous factors, some of which are listed below:

  • Infection

  • Allergic reaction (including hayfever)

  • Grit in the eye

  • Inward or outward turning eyelids (known as Entropian and Ectropian respectively)

  • Smoky/windy/cold environments

  • Dry eye (strange but true!)

Poor drainage of tears


The tear ducts are located on the nasal side of the eye and act as drains that allow tears to exit the eye. As we blink, the eyelids work as a ‘pump’ that propels the tears down the tear duct.

  • If the duct is narrow or even completely blocked, tears have nowhere to go and can therefore overflow.

  • If the eyelids are too loose, the pumping action doesn’t work and the tears aren’t drained correctly.

What can I do about it?


There are various treatments for watering eyes. In the case of overproduction of tears, the aim is to remove the cause of the irritation. This will depend on what the cause is. Drops, hot compresses, minor operations and medications may all be treatment options. In the case of poor drainage, treatment usually involves (very) minor surgery.


The first step is to identify the issue causing the problem.This is easily done by booking an appointment with your local optometrist.

Always consult a qualified optometrist to confirm a diagnosis!

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