6 Reasons You Always Have Watery Eyes

Watery eyes are a symptom of various health and eye issues—some causes of watery eyes could be infectious or even dangerous.

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Close-up of Asian woman's eyes
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There are numerous reasons for watery eyes

Watery eyes are a symptom of various health and eye issues. According to Stephanie Marioneaux, MD, clinical spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology, it’s very important to note that some causes of watery eyes could be infectious or even dangerous. There are also tons of environmental factors that can cause this symptom, but you don’t want to trivialize watery eyes. “The watery eye is often misinterpreted as an annoyance, and the response is to grab a tissue and blot the eye dry until you’ve sussed out every bit of moisture, trying to give yourself relief,” Dr. Marioneaux says. In effect, the eye is bone-dry, and it stimulates more tears, perpetuating a vicious cycle that the patient encourages, she adds. Dr. Marioneaux suggests having an ophthalmologist check for any eye problems if symptoms such as watery eyes don’t improve after 24 hours.

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You have dry eyes

Although this might seem contradictory, having dry eyes could actually cause watery eyes, says Douglas Lazzaro, MD, an ophthalmologist at NYU Langone Health. Dr. Lazzaro explains that this is a reflex as the eyes tear in response to dryness of the ocular surface, including the outer layer of the cornea, the tears, the conjunctiva, and the margin of the eyelids. “The corneas are very innervated [supplied] with nerves,” Dr. Lazzaro says. So when the eye surface is not appropriately smooth or is dry, the nerves send an impulse to the lacrimal gland to secrete extra, watery tears, according to Dr. Lazzaro.

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A variety of pills and medications
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You’re taking certain medications that cause dry eye

Dryness from certain medicines leads to watery eyes, and the list of culprits is long, according to Ray Chan, MD, an ophthalmologist at Texas Health Arlington Memorial Hospital. Common offenders include everything from chemotherapy drugs, diuretics, antihistamines, decongestants, and antidepressants. “Antihistamines and decongestants work to decrease mucus and aqueous production in the body to help stop a runny nose or itchy skin,” Dr. Chan says. “However, this also decreases the aqueous production of the tear film and leads to tear-film dysfunction and subsequent dry and watery eyes.” Antidepressants cause watery eyes by interrupting the signals between nerve cells, which can affect nerve signals to the brain pertaining to tear production.

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Watery eyes
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You have an autoimmune disease

Various autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, can cause watery eyes, but Dr. Marioneaux says that although the association is clear, there isn’t sufficient data yet to explain what triggers this symptom.

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Eye exam
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You have a blocked tear duct

Another common reason for watery eyes is a blocked tear duct, but the blocked duct doesn’t cause an excess creation of tears, according to Dr. Lazzaro. “Blocked tear ducts actually do not allow the normal tears produced to drain into the tear duct, so the patient frequently has tearing down the cheek,” Dr. Lazzaro says. “Patients frequently consider this excessive watery eyes, but in fact, this is normal tearing that is not draining well.”

Dr. Chan says that this drainage goes through a passageway into the nose and the back of the throat, which is why you sometimes get the sniffles when you cry. “Any blockage of the tear ducts prevents the eyes from draining excess fluids that are not being used to lubricate the eyes,” he says.

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Applying eye drops
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You’re using eye drops that have a preservative

Most eye drops contain a preservative that can irritate the ocular surface and cause watering and even dry-eye symptoms, according to Dr. Lazzaro. Medical News Today also reports that the maximum safe dosage of drops with a preservative is typically four times a day.

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You have allergies

Allergies are another cause of watery eyes. Eye problems from allergies often start with itching from the allergen. And one of the worst things you can do in this situation is rub your eyes, according to Dr. Marioneaux. That’s because chances are, the hand brought the allergy to the eye in the first place. “Tearing is just what the patient notices,” Dr. Marioneaux says. “The primary reason why the eyes water in an allergy situation is to try and bring forth all the wonderful components of the tears.” These tears will try to dilute or bind with the allergen to break it up, get rid of it, and relieve itching, she adds.

Suffering from tired, irritated eyes? We asked to medical experts to weigh in!

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