Watering Eyes – Epiphora

Watering Eyes (Epiphora) or Watery Eyes are a common problem, particularly in older people. A blocked tear ductis the most common cause, but there are a number of other causes.

Watery Eye

You may not need treatment if symptoms are mild. An operation can usually cure a blocked tear duct. Other treatments depend on the cause. Watering eyes can occur at any age, but are most common in young babies and in people over the age of 60. It can occur in one or both eyes.

Causes of Watering Eyes (Epiphora)

Tear Production
  • Emotion can make you cry.
  • Anything that irritates the eye can cause you to make a lot of tears. The watering is a protective reflex to help clear irritants away from the eye. For example:
    • Chemical irritants such as onions, fumes, etc.
    • Infection of the front of the eye (infective conjunctivitis).
    • An allergy causing inflammation of the front of the eye (allergic conjunctivitis).
    • A small injury or scratch to the front of the eye, or a piece of dirt or grit which gets stuck in the eye.
    • Eyelashes that grow inwards can irritate the front of the eye. This is called an entropion. (See separate leaflet called ‘Entropion’.)
  • Abnormalities of the tear film. For example, the lipid (fat) content of tears may not be right. The tear film may then not spread evenly across the front of the eye. Patches of dryness may then develop which can become sore and make your eyes water.
  • Thyroid eye disease is an uncommon cause.

Watery Eyes

Symptoms of Watery Eyes (Epiphora)

Watery eye (epiphora) may accompany other common symptoms including:

  • Burning feeling in the eyes
  • Crusting of the eyelid margin
  • Discharge from the eyes
  • Gritty feeling
  • Redness of the eyes or eyelids
  • Runny nose (nasal congestion)
  • Sense of a foreign body in the eye
  • Sneezing
  • Swelling of the face

In some cases, watery eye may occur with other symptoms that might indicate a serious condition that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting. Someone having watery eyes along with other serious symptoms  require immediate medical attention that includes:-

  • Chemical burns in the eye area
  • High fever (higher than 101 degrees Fahrenheit)
  • Respiratory or breathing problems, such as shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, labored breathing, wheezing, not breathing, choking
  • Sudden change in vision, loss of vision, or eye pain
  • Trauma to the eye

Treatment of Watery Eyes (Epiphora)

Treatment options depend on the severity of the epiphora and its causes. In mild cases doctors may recommend just watchful waiting – doing nothing and monitoring the patient’s progress.

  • Treatment for irritation – if the watering eye is caused by infective conjunctivitis the doctor may prefer to wait for a week or so to see if the problem resolves itself without antibiotics. When allergic conjunctivitis is the cause the patient may be prescribed an antihistamine, which is effective in bringing down the inflammation.
  • In cases of Trichiasis – an inward-growing eyelash or some foreign object that lodged in the eye, the doctor will remove it.
  • If the patient has ectropion – the eyelid turns outwards – the patient may need to undergo surgery in which the tendon that holds the outer eyelid in place is tightened.
  • Blocked tear ducts – surgery which creates a new channel from the tear sac to the inside of the nose may be necessary. This allows the tears to bypass the blocked part of the tear duct. This surgical procedure is called DCR (dacryocystorhinostomy). If the drainage channels on the inside of the eye (canaliculi) are narrowed, but not entirely blocked, the doctor may use a probe to make them wider. When the canaliculi are completely blocked an operation may be required.

Topics Covered

  1. Watering Eyes (Epiphora
  2. Causes of Watering Eyes (Epiphora)
  3. Symptoms of Watery Eyes (Epiphora)
  4. Treatment of Watery Eyes (Epiphora)
  5. Treatment for irritation
  6. Trichiasis
  7. ectropion
  8. Blocked tear ducts




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