Watery eyes

Medical quality assurance by Dr. Albrecht Nonnenmacher, MD at November 24, 2015
StartSymptomsWatery eyes

Watery eyes are often the result of an allergic reaction. Other times, watery eyes may be caused by a sinus infection, irritation, headache, or eyewear such as contact lenses. Watery eyes often happen if your eye is producing too little or too much lubrication.


Definition & Facts

Watery eyes is a medical condition called epiphora. This condition occurs when tear ducts in the eyes produce excess lubrication. Tears play an important role in the body because they help wash away foreign particles from the eyes. Watery eyes are a common condition among the elderly. Eyes change as people age causing a change in the way the eye produces tears.

As people age, the tendons and muscles that control blinking begin to relax causing the eyes not to water as they should. In addition, aging may result in the blockage of tear ducts. However, watery eyes may often be caused by allergies, pets, and dust. People with dry eyes often experience watery eyes accompanied by redness and irritation. Tearing may also be caused by perfectly normal habits like yawning, coughing or sneezing.


Wearing contact lenses may cause watery eyes due to excessive tearing. Poorly fitting, scratched, or damaged contact lenses may cause the eyes to tear up. Such lenses may also trap foreign particles between them and the eye. The solutions include removing the lenses and cleaning them as well as the eyes before putting them back on. If the problem continues, remove the lenses altogether and consult your doctor. Alternatively, consider switching the contact lenses for glasses, especially in dusty, smoggy, and high-pollen areas.

Watery eyes may also be caused by a direct hit or blow to the head. This may be accompanied by swelling and reddening of the eyes. Discharge may be a sign of infection. Watery eyes lasting more than two weeks should be seen by a licensed doctor for correct diagnosis. Watery eyes caused by a direct blow to the eyes or allergy may be treated with antihistamines, change in lenses or just a simple wash of the eyes.

Watery eyes may be caused by strong winds and bitter cold. However, excessive tearing could be a sign of dry eye problem worsened by the wind and cold. Involuntary tearing indoors could be a sign of allergy, infection, or dry eye problem. Wind and cold often cause excessive tearing in one eye. However, consider seeing a doctor if the problem persists when outside in the cold.

When to see a doctor

The causes of watery eyes may range from irritants and infections to sneezing and yawning. It is always important to know what is normal and when to see a doctor. Excessive watering of the eye accompanied by redness or itching may be a sign of an allergy. Infection of the eyelashes or eyelids may also cause watery eyes. Infections of the eyes may be accompanied with redness, swelling, as well as discharge. Foreign bodies inside the eye should be a good reason to see a doctor.

Doctors will conduct several tests to determine the cause of watery eyes. Some of the causes that doctors look for include sinuses, headaches, and environmental issues such as dust, pollen, and smog. Doctors will ask when the eyes started becoming watery and for how long that has been going on. In addition, doctors will check for lung congestion and if the watery eyes are accompanied by a cough or cold to have a better idea of the cause of the watery eyes and how to treat it.

Treatment & Therapy

  • To help treat watery eyes, consider purchasing artificial tears. Good examples of artificial tears include over the counter eye drops and antihistamines. Be sure to consult your doctor in case you experience increased itchiness, dryness, or redness accompanied by mucus-like discharge. Surgery may be recommended in some cases. Each case of watery eyes is different and should be treated individually.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water before washing your face or eye area. Bacteria, a common cause of watery eyes, can easily spread from your contaminated hands into your eyes. Dry off your hands using a towel before washing your eye area.
  • Use pure water when washing your face or eye area. Chlorinated water can cause irritation, which may cause watery eyes. Pure water will help clean your eyes by flushing out dirt and other substances irritating your eyes. Splash your eyes three to four times and use a dry towel to mop up excess water from your face.
  • To treat eye inflammation and watery eyes caused by allergens and cold, prepare green tea on the stove and allow water to seep through the bags. Remove the tea from the stove and use a sieve to remove the tea bags from the tea. Put the tea bags in the freezer and let them cool while you enjoy your cup of tea. Remove the tea bags from the freezer before they freeze. Rest on your back and place a tea bag on each eyelid. Leave the tea bags on your eyelids for around 15 minutes and then remove them and dispose of them.
  • Buy over the counter eye medication or eye drops. This helps to heal watery eyes caused by allergies. Only use the eye medication as directed and do not abuse it.

Prevention & Prophylaxis

Wear sunglasses to protect the eyes from excess sunlight, wind, and dust. In addition, consider buying over the counter antihistamine medication if you are allergic to pollen or dust to prevent allergic reactions that may cause watery eyes.

See a doctor to help in the diagnosis and treatment of headaches that are causing watery eyes. Go for eye prophylaxis, which refers to eye ointment or medication often recommended to people with watery eyes to help rid the eyes of foreign substances that may be causing excessive tearing.

The ointment usually contains antibiotics or silver nitrate that helps to treat eye infections. Finally, include foods rich in vitamin C and K into your diet and get adequate amount of sleep each night.