CausesBy Mayo Clinic staff
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:
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
- Stevens-Johnson syndrome
- Surgery of the eye or nose
- Thyroid disorders
- Tumors affecting the tear drainage system
- Wegener's granulomatosis
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)
Causes shown here are commonly associated with this symptom. Work with your doctor or other health care professional for an accurate diagnosis.
- Riordan-Eva P, et al. Vaughan & Asbury's General Ophthalmology. 18th ed. New York, N.Y.: The McGraw-Hill Companies; 2011. http://www.accessmedicine.com/content.aspx?aID=55781224. Accessed June 14, 2012.
- Tearing (epiphora). The Merck Manuals: The Merck Manual for Healthcare Professionals. http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/eye_disorders/symptoms_of_ophthalmologic_disorders/tearing.html?qt=tearing&alt=sh#v953468. Accessed June 12, 2012.
- Tearing. American Academy of Ophthalmology. http://www.aao.org/theeyeshaveit/symptoms/tearing.cfm. Accessed June 12, 2012.
- Price KM, et al. The tearing patient: Diagnosis and management. EyeNet Magazine. http://www.aao.org/aao/publications/eyenet/200906/pearls.cfm. Accessed June 12, 2012.