Watering Eyes

Watering eye, also known as epiphora or tearing, is a condition in which there is an overflow of tears onto the face, often without a clear explanation. There is insufficient tear film drainage from the eye(s) - instead of all the tears draining through the nasolacrimal system, they overflow onto the face.

Epiphora can develop at any age. It is, however, more common among babies aged under 12 months, and adults over the age of 60 years. The condition may present symptoms in just one or both eyes.

In most cases watering eye can be treated effectively.

Depending on the severity of symptoms, watering eye can sometimes make driving difficult and dangerous.

According to Medilexicon's medical dictionary, epiphora (tearing, watering eye) is:

An overflow of tears on the cheek, due to imperfect drainage by the tear-conducting passages.

What are the causes of epiphora (watering eye)

There are two main causes of epiphora - blocked tear ducts or excessive production of tears.

Blocked tear ducts -

some humans are born with underdeveloped tear ducts. It is not uncommon for newborns to have watery eyes. Generally, this problem goes away within a few weeks as the ducts develop.

The most common cause of watering eyes among adults and older children is blocked ducts, or ducts that are too narrow. Narrowed tear ducts usually become so as a result of swelling (inflammation).

If a patient's tear ducts are narrowed or blocked their tears will not be able to drain away and will build up in the tear sac. Stagnant tears in the tear sac increase the risk of infection in that area and the eye will produce a sticky liquid, further exacerbating the problem. Infection can also lead to inflammation on the side of the nose, next to the eye.

Narrow drainage channels on the insides of the eyes (canaliculi) can become blocked. This is caused by swelling or scarring.

Over-production of tears - irritated eyes may produce more tears than normal as the body tries to rinse the irritant away. The following irritants can cause the over-production of tears:

  • Some chemicals, such as fumes, and even onions
  • Infective conjunctivitis
  • Allergic conjunctivitis
  • An injury to the eye, such as a scratch or a bit of grit (tiny pebble or piece of dirt)
Trichiasis -

inward-growing eyelashes, often caused by marginal entropion (the eye lid turns in at the edges towards the eye)

Ectropion -

this is when the lower eyelid turns outwards

The tears of some patients have a high fat (lipid) content. This may interfere with the even spread of liquid across the eye, leaving dry patches which become sore, irritated and cause the eye to produce more tears.