7 Causes of Water Eyes (Other Symptoms & Treatment)

9 sources cited
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Why Are My Eyes Watery?

Watery eyes can be the result of various factors. Not all causes of watery eyes are serious. Most are easily treatable. 

Whatever the cause of your watery eyes, they can be uncomfortable and impact your vision.

7 Causes of Watery Eyes

Here are seven common causes of watery eyes:

1. Debris

If you have something in your eye, you may notice excessive watering. Your eye might water in an attempt to dislodge debris.

Other Symptoms

Other symptoms of debris in your eye include:

  • Redness
  • Irritation
  • Swelling
  • A scratchy feeling
  • Blurry vision

Treatment

Over-the-counter (OTC) eye drops can help clear debris from your eyes. You may also use a gentle cleanser to clean makeup or wipe dust and dirt from in and around your eyes.

2. Pink Eye

Pink eye, also known as bacterial conjunctivitis, is an infection of the conjunctiva. Viral conjunctivitis is another type of pink eye caused by the cold virus. The conjunctiva is the transparent membrane that lines your eyelid and the whites of your eyes.7

Other Symptoms

Symptoms of pink eye include:7

  • Itchiness
  • Redness
  • Swelling
  • Oozing
  • Crusting
  • Blurred vision

Treatment

The fastest way to treat bacterial conjunctivitis is with antibiotic eye drops. Viral conjunctivitis goes away after a week or two. You can also treat symptoms of pink eye with:7

  • OTC artificial tears
  • Cleaning your eyes with a wet washcloth
  • Cold or warm compresses

3. Allergies and Irritants

Allergies can be seasonal or perennial.8

Allergens like pollen in the air trigger seasonal allergies. Perennial allergies can occur regularly due to dust, mold, and pet dander.8

Other irritants that can cause your eyes to water include the following:

  • Smoke
  • Exhaust
  • Smells from certain foods
  • Perfumes and colognes

Other Symptoms

Other symptoms like the following may accompany allergies:8

  • Red eyes
  • Swollen eyes
  • Irritated or itchy eyes
  • Sneezing
  • Runny nose
  • Congestion
  • Shortness of breath
  • Coughing
  • Headaches
  • Itchy skin
  • Rash

Treatment

Treatment for allergies depends on the type of allergies you have. OTC antihistamines like Benadryl or Claritin can relieve most symptoms.

Washing your hands and avoiding touching your face can also help prevent allergies from flaring up or worsening.

4. Blocked Tear Ducts

Tears typically flow out of the glands in your eyes and drain into the ducts. However, blocked tear ducts can cause watery eyes since your tears can build up.2

Blocked tear ducts may be from an infection or injury. They can also be a symptom of aging.2

Other Symptoms

Blocked tear ducts may also exhibit the following symptoms:

  • Excessive tearing
  • Redness
  • Recurrent eye infection
  • Inflammation
  • Painful swelling
  • Crusting of the eyelids
  • Mucus or pus 
  • Blurry vision

Treatment

Treatment for blocked tear ducts varies depending on the cause and severity. They include:

  • Medications or prescription eye drops to fight eye infections
  • Dilation of the puncta with a small probe and flushing of the tear duct
  • Stenting or intubation under general anesthesia
  • Balloon catheter dilation under general anesthesia
  • Dacryocystorhinostomy surgery to open a passageway for your tears to drain through your nose 

5. Blepharitis

Blepharitis is an eye condition that leads to inflammation of the eyelids. It can make your eyes water.1

Blepharitis is common. It can be caused by bacteria, dandruff, rosacea, and other conditions.1

Other Symptoms

Blepharitis may be accompanied by symptoms like:

  • Swollen eyelids
  • Sore eyelids
  • Itchy eyes
  • Dry eyes
  • Feeling of debris in your eyes
  • Feeling of scratches on your eyes
  • Flakes along the lash line
  • Oozing or crusty corners of the eyes
  • Eyelids sticking together when you wake up

Treatment

Blepharitis treatments vary. They include:

  • Antibiotic ointments or steroid eye drops to treat eye infections
  • Medications to control inflammation of the eyes
  • Treatments for underlying conditions like dermatitis or rosacea

6. Meibomian Gland Dysfunction (MGD)

Meibomian gland dysfunction (MGD) is an eye condition in which the meibomian glands don’t secrete enough or produce poor-quality oil.6

When the meibomian glands don’t function properly, you can experience many uncomfortable symptoms, including watery eyes.6

Other Symptoms

Other symptoms of MGD include:

  • Dryness
  • Burning
  • Itchiness
  • Irritation
  • Redness
  • Crustiness
  • Discharge
  • Light sensitivity 
  • Blurry vision

Treatment

Treatment for MGD includes:

  • Lid scrubs
  • Massages
  • Warm compresses
  • Omega-3 fatty acid supplements

7. Eyelid or Eyelash Problems

Eyelid problems can include everything from styes to entropion or ectropion.9

Styes are red, painful lumps along the edge of your eyelids caused by bacteria.9

In entropion, eyelids curve inward, rubbing against the eyes. In ectropion, eyelids curve outward, so they can’t wipe your whole eyes when you blink. Both conditions can cause your eyes to water. 4, 5

Eyelash problems like trichiasis can cause your eyes to water, too. This happens when your eyelashes grow inwards instead of outwards and rub against your eyes.3

Other Symptoms

Other symptoms of eyelid or eyelash problems include:

  • Redness
  • Irritation
  • Swelling
  • Infection
  • Blurry vision

Treatment

Treatment for eyelid or eyelash problems will vary depending on the cause.

If you have a stye, warm compresses can help.9

Entropion and ectropion lids may need to be treated with surgery.4, 5

Meanwhile, trichiasis can be treated with electrolysis or cryosurgery to remove the lashes.3

When Should I Worry About a Watery Eye?

You should talk to a doctor if you experience any of the following:

  • Your watery eyes aren’t getting better over time or with treatment
  • Your watery eyes are getting worse with treatment
  • You’re experiencing other symptoms with watery eyes
  • The eye condition is so severe that it’s impacting your day-to-day life

Watery Eyes Outlook

While watery eyes may be easily treatable, your outlook is dependent on the cause.

If your watery eyes are a symptom of allergies, allergy medication may be all you need. But if your watery eyes are a symptom of a more serious eye condition, your outlook won’t be as simple.  

Summary

If you develop watery eyes, rest assured the cause is likely not serious. However, they can be uncomfortable.


Follow the above tips to treat various causes of watery eyes. Talk to your eye doctor if your watery eyes aren’t getting any better or if they’re getting worse. Talk to your doctor if you have a medical history of conditions that can also trigger watery eyes.

9 Cited Research Articles
  1. Blepharitis.” National Eye Institute, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
  2. Blocked Tear Duct.” Mount Sinai Health System.
  3. Boyd, Kierstan. “What Is Trichiasis?American Academy of Ophthalmology, 14 Feb. 2022.
  4. Ectropion.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 5 Jan. 2021.
  5. Entropion.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 14 Jan. 2021.
  6. Meibomian Gland Dysfunction.” AAPOS.
  7. Pink Eye (Conjunctivitis).” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 16 June 2020.
  8. Crown, William, et al. “Seasonal versus Perennial Allergic Rhinitis: Drug and Medical Resource Use Patterns.” Value in Health: the Journal of the International Society for Pharmacoeconomics and Outcomes Research, U.S. National Library of Medicine.
  9. Stye (STY).” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 14 June 2022.
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