Possible Causes of Watery Eyes

If you have problems with watery eyes, it may seem like tears are always running down your face. What is the cause and what can be done to stop this problem?

Man in a suit rubbing his eye with his right fist
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Watery Eyes Are a Sign of Dryness

It may sound strange, but watery eyes are often a sign of dryness. Your eyes depend on tears for lubrication and for keeping your eyes clean of debris. If your tear glands don't produce the correct quantity or quality of tears, you may develop dry eye syndrome. Dry eye syndrome is a chronic lack of moisture in the eye that causes discomfort.

When your eyes become dry and uncomfortable, the tear glands react by producing large amounts of tears, a process known as reflex tearing. Reflex tears contain more water and less mucus and oils than regular tears. Because reflex tears are of poor quality, they don't do a good job alleviating dryness. Even more tears are produced, creating a vicious circle.

If your eyes are watery, but tears don't run down your cheeks, dry eyes are often the cause. If your eyes water so much that tears run down your cheeks, it could be that you have a blocked tear duct.

Other Causes

Other causes of watery eyes include the following:

  • Having a common cold is the most common cause of tearing.
  • Blocked tear duct: When your tears don't drain correctly, your eyes will remain watery. This can be caused by a blockage or even by lax eyelids that don't allow your natural blinking to help pump away your tears to drain.
  • Allergies: Hay fever and indoor allergens can both cause you to produce too many tears.
  • Eye irritation: This can happen due to cold, wind, chemicals, ingrown eyelash, or foreign bodies in your eye, with an overproduction of tears.
  • Eye infections: Including pink eye (conjunctivitis), and sty
  • Scratches to the eye
  • Blepharitis: Inflammation of the eyelids.
  • Medications including chemotherapy drugs, epinephrine, and eyedrops
  • Underlying health conditions such as Bell's palsy, inflammatory diseases, rheumatoid arthritis, Sjogren's syndrome, Stevens-Johnson syndrome, thyroid disorders

When to See Your Healthcare Provider

If your eyes are watering, a detailed eye examination by your eye care provider can help identify the cause. If you have trouble seeing, feel pain, or feel like you have a foreign body in your eye, you should see your medical doctor.

Take note of when your symptoms started and whether both eyes or only one eye is affected. If it has been going on for a long time and affects both eyes, that will point to a different set of causes than if it is in one eye for a short time. Be sure to make a list of the medications you are taking, including over-the-counter products and eye drops.


Treatment for watery eyes will depend on the cause. Self-care can include using artificial tears to help relieve dry eyes or soothe eye irritation. You might also try warm compresses over your eyes for a few minutes.

3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Shen GL, Ng JD, Ma XP. Etiology, diagnosis, management and outcomes of epiphora referrals to an oculoplastic practiceInt J Ophthalmol. 2016;9(12):1751–1755. doi:10.18240/ijo.2016.12.08

  2. Nemet AY. The Etiology of Epiphora: A Multifactorial IssueSeminars in Ophthalmology. June 2014:1-5. doi:10.3109/08820538.2014.962163

  3. Singh S, Nair AG, Kamal S. A review on functional epiphora- current understanding and existing lacunaeExpert Review of Ophthalmology. 2019;14(3):169-177. doi:10.1080/17469899.2019.1618708

Additional Reading
  • Eyes, Watery (Excess Tearing). Merck Manual Consumer Version.

  • Tearing (Epiphora). Merck Manual Professional

By Troy Bedinghaus, OD
Troy L. Bedinghaus, OD, board-certified optometric physician, owns Lakewood Family Eye Care in Florida. He is an active member of the American Optometric Association.