Why Do Older Eyes Seem to Produce More Tears?

elderly woman rubbing her eye
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Tears are essential for your eyes to work correctly. Tears wash away dust and particles that get in the eye and they keep the eye moist. In some cases, however, the eyes over-produce tears, resulting in "rheumy" eyes or an embarrassing teary-eyed appearance.

Causes of Watery Eyes

While infection, irritation, allergies and other causes for watery eyes exist, one of the most common causes of watery eyes and tearing is, oddly, dry eyes. The body senses that the eyes are dry, so it makes more tears.

You may go through periods of raw, dry eyes, followed by teary eyes. This is a common complaint of older people and is, surprisingly, referred to as dry eye syndrome.

There are a variety of reasons behind dry eye syndrome. In general, they are more irritating than dangerous. While some can be addressed medically, others are simply a result of aging:

  • Meibomian glands in the eyes normal secrete an oily material that tops tears from evaporating too quickly. When they are not functioning normally, dry patches occur and extra tears are produced. normally secrete an oily substance that slows the evaporation of tears between blinks.
  • When these glands don't function properly, known as Meibomian gland dysfunction (MGD), it can result in dry patches on your eyes. These become sore, and extra tears are produced as a reflex. This is the most likely cause of watering eyes.
  • When the lower eyelid sags, it can be hard for tears to move in their proper path toward drainage ducts. This condition, called ectropion, can be resolved through minor surgery. If lower eyelids roll inward, the same issue can occur. It can also be resolved through surgery.
  • An inflammation or infection of the edges of the eyelid can block drainage ducts, resulting in tearing eyes.
  • Tear ducts can become blocked or narrowed. Minor surgery can resolve this.
  • Eye infections, such as pinkeye, can cause tearing.

More Serious Issues That Relate to Tearing

If your eyes are tearing and you also have some of the following symptoms, it's a good idea to visit your doctor:

  • Dry bulging eyes may be a sign of thyroid disease
  • Dry eyes with changes in vision could be a symptom of several potential problems
  • Dry eyes related to a new lump should be investigated

What to Do?

There are a few things you can do to keep your eyes from tearing too much:

  • Protect your eyes: Wear sunglasses to keep out particles and protect from glare.
  • Use eye drops: If you notice your eyes are dry, use a few eye drops, the brands that are known as artificial tears or lubricating eye drops. Try to beat the body’s response to dry eyes.
  • See your eye doctor: Your eye doctor can check for clogged tear ducts and other explanations for watery eyes. She can also give you drops and other simple suggestions for improving your eye health.
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