Definition of epiphora (watery eyes)
Watery eyes (epiphora) tear persistently or excessively. Watery eyes can be due to excess tear production, inflammation of your eyes or inadequate drainage of your normal tears.
Causes of epiphora (watery eyes)
Medications that can cause watery eyes include:
- Epinephrine (Adrenaclick, EpiPen, others)
- Chemotherapy drugs
- Cholinergic agonists
- Eyedrops, especially echothiophate iodide (Phospholine Iodide) and pilocarpine (Isopto Carpine)
Watery eyes may be caused by several conditions. Any type of inflammation — infections, allergies, a foreign body or other irritants — can result in watery eyes.
The tear ducts don’t produce tears, but rather carry away tears, similar to how a storm drain carries away rainwater. Tears normally drain into your nose through tiny openings (puncta) in the inner part of the lids near the nose. If a tear duct is blocked for any reason, you may experience watery eyes.
In infants, the most common cause of persistent watery eyes is a blocked or incompletely opened tear duct. The tears may dry out and appear crusty, but not necessarily due to infection. Within a few months, most blocked tear ducts in infants resolve on their own.
In children, common causes include:
- Viral infection (viral conjunctivitis)
Older adults sometimes have a blocked tear duct. More commonly, the muscles that hold the inner part of the eyelid flat against the eyeball relax, which, in some cases, causes the surface of the eye to dry out, resulting in chronic irritation and watery eyes. In other people, the tears puddle up behind and overflow the lower eyelid.
Common causes of watery eyes include:
- Blepharitis (eyelid inflammation)
- Blocked tear duct
- Common cold
- Dry eyes (decreased production of tears)
- Ectropion (outwardly turned eyelid)
- Entropion (inwardly turned eyelid)
- Foreign object in the eye
- Hay fever
- Infection of the tear duct
- Ingrown eyelash (trichiasis)
- Irritation of the cornea (front of the eye)
- Pink eye (conjunctivitis)
Less commonly, watery eyes may result from:
- Blow to the eye or other eye injury
- Chronic sinusitis
- Congenital or early-onset glaucoma in infants
- Floppy eyelid syndrome
- Other inflammatory diseases
- Radiation therapy
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Seventh nerve palsy (damage to a facial nerve)
- Sjogren’s syndrome (generally causes dry mouth and eyes)
- Stevens-Johnson syndrome
- Surgery of the eye or nose
- Thyroid disorders
- Tumors affecting the tear drainage system
- Wegener’s granulomatosis
When to see a doctor
Watery eyes may clear up on their own. If the problem results from dry eyes or eye irritation, you may find it helpful to use artificial tears four or five times a day or place warm compresses over your eyes for several minutes. If watery eyes persist, make an appointment with your doctor. If necessary, he or she may refer you to an eye doctor (ophthalmologist).
Seek immediate medical attention if you have watery eyes with:
- Reduced vision
- Pain around your eyes
- A foreign body sensation