By Dr. Jill Finke
On a recent brisk winter day, you may have bundled up into your coat for the cold, windy walk to your mailbox. As the wind chilled your cheeks and ears, you also may have noticed that tears were running out of your eyes. When tearing occurs in the absence of crying, your eyes are “watering.”
Our eye surface does require moisture to remain comfortable and to enable clear vision. In some cases, if our bodies sense a lack of moisture on the eye surface, the eyes will water as a protective response. One cause of this lack of moisture can be environmental conditions, such as wind or a low humidity environment. Another cause may be dry eye syndrome, when your eye surface becomes dry from poor quality or not enough tears and your eyes water to compensate for this dryness. Medications, radiation therapy, and health conditions can also contribute to eye surface dryness.
Additionally, our eyes can water in response to an irritant. Some people notice watery eyes in the presence of allergies as the eyes work to wash away the allergens from the irritated eye surface. Many people have experienced watery eyes when cutting onions, which is also a protective response of the eyes. Other irritant causes of eye watering can be infections, such as conjunctivitis, or an eye injury.
Another cause of eye watering can be due to a lack of proper drainage of the tears your eyes produce. The tear ducts normally enable healthy tears to flow away from the eye surface and into your nasal passages. However, in the presence of a blocked tear duct, the eye surface may have too much liquid and the tears will often run down your cheeks.
As you can see, there are several reasons for your eyes to water. In some cases, the watering is an excellent protective mechanism for your eyes. And in other cases, watering can be a sign of a condition that may need attention. If your eyes are watering frequently, your eye care provider will be able to help you sort through the causes and help you find a solution.