What Do Watering Eyes Indicate?

Reviewed on 7/28/2022
A woman with a large teardrop falling from her right eye
Causes of watering eyes can include irritation due to weather, dry eye syndrome, dry eye syndrome, aerosol-related, pink eye (conjunctivitis), eyelid inflammation (blepharitis) or other eyelid problems, styes, corneal scratches, makeup products, contact lens wear, Bell's palsy, Sjogren’s Syndrome, some medicines, and small tear ducts present in an infant.

Watering eyes can occur for many reasons, such as cold or windy weather, allergies, smoky environments, a foreign object in the eye, an eye injury, or eye infection. 

Depending on the circumstance, watering eyes may indicate:

  • Irritation due to weather
    • Changes in seasons often come with changes in humidity 
    • In the winter, use of heat indoors causes dry air, which can dry the eyes
      • To combat the dryness, the eyes increase tear production, but the type of tear produced doesn’t lubricate the eye, resulting in extra tears 
    • Windy weather can also cause eye dryness and watering 
  • Dry eye syndrome
    • Eye watering is a common symptom of dry eye in which the eye often produces too many tears
    • Tears are made of three components: lipid (oil), water, and mucus
    • Most often, tears lack the lipid layer 
    • When there’s an imbalance in these elements, tears don’t remain on the eye, which results in watering
  • Allergies
    • Seasonal allergies in the spring and summer cause symptoms in and around the eyes, including watering, redness, itching, and swelling 
  • Aerosol-related 
    • Perfumes, hair sprays, body sprays, and air fresheners contain irritants that can cause eye watering and redness
    • This can occur even just being in a room where these products have been used
  • Pink eye (conjunctivitis)
    • Pink eye is often caused by viruses, but it can also be caused by bacteria, allergies, and toxins
    • It causes watery, red, irritated eyes
  • Eyelid inflammation (blepharitis) or other eyelid problems
    • Can be caused by viral infections, rosacea, dermatitis, parasitic infections, allergies, drug toxicity, a chemical reaction, or exposure to chemical fumes, smoke, smog, and other environmental irritants
    • Eyelid drooping away from the eye (ectropion) 
    • Can cause watering eyes, as well as eyelid irritation, redness, and dryness 
  • Styes
    • A stye (also called a hordeolum) is a small, red, painful lump that forms at the base of an eyelash or under the eyelid resulting from an oil gland being clogged
    • Most styes are caused by bacterial infections
  • Corneal scratches
    • A scratch on the cornea is very painful and causes watering eyes, along with eye redness and blurred vision
  • Makeup products
    • Some makeup products can irritate the eyes and cause watering and irritation, especially when used on the “water line,” where the eye glands produce oil
  • Contact lens wear
    • Defective or damaged lenses can irritate the eye and cause it to water
    • If contact lenses are uncomfortable, remove the lens and check for rips, tears, or other abnormalities
  • Bell's palsy 
    • A temporary weakness to one side of the face
    • Can also affect the eyes in the form of watering eyes, dry eye disease or the inability to close the eye
  • Sjogren’s Syndrome
    • An autoimmune disease that attacks the glands responsible for producing tears and saliva and results in dry mouth, dry eyes, or very watery eyes
  • Some medicines 
  • Babies frequently have watering eyes because of small tear ducts 

What Are Symptoms of Watering Eyes?

Depending on the cause, symptoms of watering eyes include: 

  • A sensation of watery eyes 
  • Tears falling down the cheek
  • Eye irritation 
  • Eye redness
  • Eye pain

How Are Watering Eyes Diagnosed?

Watering eyes may not require evaluation by a doctor. See a doctor if you have watering eyes and: 

  • Recurrent, unexplained episodes of red, watery eyes
  • A hard mass in or near the tear duct
  • Excessive watery eyes that also produce discharge
  • Painful watery eyes
  • Watery eyes along with sore sinuses
  • Vision problems or vision loss
  • Watery eyes accompanied by severe headache
  • Bruising around the eyes
  • Exposure to chemicals
  • The cause of watering eyes is diagnosed with a patient history and a physical examination of the eyes. 

Testing is not usually needed but if further examination is necessary, a patient may be referred to an ophthalmologist (a doctor who specializes in evaluation and treatment of eye disorders).


What Is the Treatment for Watering Eyes?

Watering eyes are common and often get better on their own, but treatment may be needed if the eye watering causes problems.

If treatment is needed, it will depend on the cause and may include: 

  • Irritation due to weather
    • Over-the-counter (OTC) oil-based eye lubricant 
  • Dry eye syndrome
    • Warm compresses or microwaveable eyelid mask to heat oil glands and help stimulate oil production
    • Oil-based tears 
  • Allergies
    • Avoid the allergen when possible
    • Wash eyelids daily to remove allergens near or around the eyelids
    • Antihistamine eye drops, both OTC or prescription-strength 
  • Aerosol-related 
    • Flush the eye with a preservative-free saline or lubricant eye drop 
  • Pink eye (conjunctivitis)
    • Artificial tears (no redness relievers)
    • Cold compresses 
    • Frequent hand-washing
  • Eyelid inflammation (blepharitis) or other eyelid problems
    • Wash the eyelids daily with baby shampoo on a warm washcloth or special eyelid wipes available over the counter
  • Styes
    • Warm compress because heat helps liquefy clogged glands and release the oil stuck inside
    • See your eye doctor if warm compresses don’t improve the size of the bump or it continues to cause pain 
  • Corneal scratches
    • If you think your eye is scratched, see your eye doctor right away, because scratches can easily become infected
  • Makeup products
    • Replace makeup according to the label
    • Dispose of makeup not used within this time 
    • Remove makeup at the end of the day with makeup remover, makeup wipes, or eyelid wipes
  • Contact lens wear
    • Throw away any lens with a rip or tear
    • If watering or irritation continues, see an eye doctor 
  • Bell's palsy 
    • Lubricating eye drops to keep eyes moist when patients are unable to blink
  • Sjogren’s syndrome
    • Artificial tears
    • Prescription steroid eye drops 
    • Other anti-inflammatory eye drops, such as ciclosporin drops
    • Pilocarpine to help the body produce more tears 
    • A procedure to block the tear ducts with tiny plugs to stop tears draining away
  • Some medicines 
    • If medications cause watery eyes, talk to your doctor to see if you can change medications or dosage
    • Never stop taking a prescribed medication without first talking to your doctor
  • Babies frequently have watering eyes because of small tear ducts 
    • This usually improves by the time a child is one year old

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Reviewed on 7/28/2022

Image source: iStock Images