Why Do You Have Watery Eyes?

By Frank DiVincenzo, MD
Medically reviewed checkmarkMedically reviewed
May 10, 2022

Tears play a vital role in keeping your eyes healthy.

They clear away any debris, keep your eyes moist, and provide lubrication for your eyes to ensure that your vision is clear.

However, if your eyes water excessively, it could be due to more than just an allergy. 

In this article, we’ll explore some of the main causes of watery eyes and look at treatments that could help with excess tearing.

What Causes Watery Eyes?

As you blink throughout the day, your tears are evenly distributed across your eyes to keep them moist and lubricated.

Tears are produced through the small hole at the edges of your eyes called the tear ducts, and if there is overproduction, like when you’re laughing, sad, or coughing excessively, then tears may run down your face. 

Watery eyes are also known as epiphora, or ‘tearing eyes,’ and are a very common symptom of several ophthalmic (eye) conditions that are controllable and not a cause for serious concern.

If your eyes water too much and you are showing other signs and symptoms such as blurry vision, soreness, and aches, you should be checked by a medical professional. 

An excess amount of tears draining from your tear ducts could be due to some common conditions such as:

Allergies

Allergies occur when your immune system reacts negatively to a foreign substance, and a symptom of an allergic reaction may include watery eyes.

More than 19 million adults aged 18 and over are diagnosed with respiratory allergies and hay fever in the United States. 

Common allergens that could trigger watery eyes include:

  • Pet dander 
  • Outdoor pollens from nature
  • Insect venom 
  • Carpet, clothing, and fur debris 
  • Dust and dust mites 
  • Mold
  • Chemicals from perfume, cigarette smoke, and exhaust pollution
  • Certain foods

Excessive eye watering could indicate that your body is trying to protect itself from what it deems harmful by creating a barrier and washing away any debris using tears.

Blocked Tear Ducts

Your eyes have a natural drainage system in the form of tear glands (lacrimal glands) and tear ducts.

These glands produce tears that wash over the surface of the eye and get drained out through the ducts.

If these tear ducts are blocked, you could suffer from irritated, itchy, and watery eyes. 

About 20% of babies experience blocked tear ducts which is very common in newborns; most often this condition resolves by itself with time as the body develops.

In adults, blocked tear ducts can be due to aging, infections, injuries in the eye area, or inflammation. 

Pink Eye

Pink eye, or conjunctivitis, is a type of inflammation or eye infection that can lead to watery and crusty discharge from the eyes, and will also leave your eyes sore and red.

It is usually caused by a bacteria or virus and is quite contagious when others come in contact with any fluid from an infected eye.

It is easily treatable and does not cause many long-term problems, though it can be quite uncomfortable and sometimes painful.

Other symptoms of pink eye to look for apart from watery eyes include blurred vision, redness and soreness, thick discharge, crusty eyelids when waking up from sleep, and itchiness across the eye area both inside and outside.

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Styes

A stye, or hordeolum, is a painful, red bump that forms near the edge of the eyelid and is usually due to a bacterial infection or inflammation.

Many people mistake this for conjunctivitis.

Styes can form on the inside or the outside of the eyelid and can be quite painful but are not serious in many cases. 

The earliest signs to watch for are soreness and swelling around the eyelids, both top and bottom.

It will soon look like a small boil or pimple on the skin and can cause your eyes to water.

Most styes resolve within a few days up to a few weeks.

Bell’s Palsy

Bell’s Palsy is a condition that results in an acute paralysis of the facial nerve due to nerve damage or inflammation. Muscles of the forehead, neck, face, and eyelid can droop and become weak.

In 60–75% of Bell’s Palsy cases, the cause is unknown and in many cases, this will resolve within weeks to months.

Make sure to see a healthcare provider right away if you develop any symptoms of facial weakness, with or without excessive watery eyes, because you may need to be evaluated for other conditions such as a possible stroke.

Medication

Some prescription and OTC medications and drugs can have side effects, one of them being watery eyes.

Treatments such as radiation or chemotherapy can also cause your eyes to water. 

Other Potential Causes

  • Dry eye syndrome: Some people live with perpetual dry eyes and need to put eye drops into their eyes regularly to maintain moisture and lubrication. Straining your eyes when using computer screens, looking at harsh light, and some vitamin deficiencies can also cause your eyes to dry out, resulting in overproduction of tears and watery eyes.
  • Natural irritants: Smoke, smog, air conditioning, chemicals, dust, and cold weather could lead to your eyes watering.
  • Cornea problems: Damage or irritation to your eye’s cornea can cause them to water.

Diagnosis 

If your watery eyes do not clear up on their own within a few days, visit an eye care professional to undergo a physical and eye exam to properly diagnose the condition.

They may perform tests on your eyes and face, and ask you about any recent injuries and lifestyle changes that could lead to watery eyes.

Your vision may also be checked to determine the most accurate diagnosis for you.

Treatment 

Most of the time, watery eyes clear up within a few days to weeks.

Depending on the severity of your condition, you can try different treatment options.

At-Home Treatment

Use a warm washcloth to soothe styes and any soreness around the eyelids.

Wash your face and eyes with clear, cool running water to get rid of any irritants and debris.

It is also important to rest your eyes when working at a screen for long periods of time, and wear adequate eye protection when out in harsh sunlight and dry cold weather.

Medical Treatment

Depending on your diagnosis, there are several different types of medical treatments available that can be prescribed by a medical professional if any of your at-home treatments prove unsuccessful. 

  • Allergies: If your eyes are watering due to allergies, you can use over-the-counter (OTC) eye drops to provide relief and oral antihistamines to relieve the symptoms and discomfort.
  • Blocked tear duct: Your medical professional may use flushing, probing, and dilating techniques to open the drainage system of your eye, and surgery may be required in very rare cases.
  • Pink eye: If conjunctivitis does not clear in a week or two, then your healthcare expert can prescribe you antibiotics to help treat it.
  • Stye: If a stye doesn’t subside on its own or with home care after two weeks, or if symptoms get worse, your medical professional may prescribe antibiotics, steroids, and in very rare cases surgery, to treat it.
  • Bell’s Palsy: Consult a medical expert right away to confirm the diagnosis of Bell’s palsy and to make sure your symptoms are not due to a more dangerous condition, such as a stroke. They may prescribe steroids or antiviral medications for a few days to see if there’s any improvement with treatment.  
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When to See a Medical Provider 

Watery eyes by themself are not usually a cause for serious concern, and can be treated using the above methods.

However, if you experience severe pain in the eyes or the surrounding areas, or weakness of the facial muscles, then consult your medical provider immediately.

You should also seek professional help if you experience blurred or loss of vision, your eyes become extremely sensitive to light, or if your eyes have been exposed to any harmful chemicals or substances.

How K Health Can Help

Did you know you can get affordable primary care with the K Health app? If you’re still not sure what’s causing your eyes to water then talk to one of our healthcare experts that are available to you at all times.
Download K to check your symptoms, explore conditions and treatments, and if needed text with a doctor in minutes. K Health’s AI-powered app is HIPAA compliant and based on 20 years of clinical data.

Frequently Asked Questions

What do watery eyes indicate?
If your eyes are watering excessively, it could mean your tear ducts are working overtime. Some debris could be blocking them and tears will run to try and clear it away. In some instances, your eyes may be too dry, which would produce an excess of tears. Gently wash your eyes with clean water and wait for the tears to subside. If you notice any swelling or if the watery eyes do not reduce, then seek professional medical help.
Do your eyes water when you have COVID-19?
Some allergies and viruses, like influenza or COVID-19, could make your eyes sore and lead to watery eyes. However, each person will present unique symptoms with each virus so it is important to get yourself checked as soon as you think you’ve been exposed to a virus such as COVID-19. As the virus mutates, symptoms and reactions will also change and you will want to reach out to your healthcare professional for up-to-date advice.

K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.

Frank DiVincenzo, MD

Dr. Frank DiVincenzo has been a physician with K Health since 2020. He grew up near Chicago, Illinois, but left the big city to go to college and then attend graduate school in Missouri. He received a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics and a Master of Science in Microbiology before graduating from the University of Missouri–Columbia School of Medicine.

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