Why Are My Eyes Watery?

Medically Reviewed by Whitney Seltman, OD on November 11, 2022
5 min read

If you have watery eyes, there are several possible reasons. They range from allergies to infections, blocked tear ducts, and funny looking eyelids. So grab a box of tissue, dab your eyes, and find out why your tears runneth over.

Millions of people have allergies, but many ignore how this affects their eyes. Exposure to pollen, pet dander, mites, and fumes can cause your eyes to turn red, itchy, and watery.

For relief, try over-the-counter medications like eye drops and antihistamines. If they don’t help, you may want to visit a doctor for prescription-strength medicines or allergy shots.

If your eyes look pink or red along with all those extra tears, you may have pinkeye, a kind of inflammation. Other signs are blurry vision, pus or mucus in the eye, and red inner eyelids.

If you think you might have it, see a doctor right away. Your treatment will depend on whether the cause is bacteria, a virus, or allergies. Also, be sure to keep your hands away from your eyes, and wash them with lid scrubs or warm soapy water before and after you apply medicine. Don’t share towels, washcloths, or anything else that touches your eyes.

Your eye has a miniature plumbing system that makes tears, then washes them across your eye and down a duct into your nose. When the duct gets narrow or blocked, the tears back up and your eyes get watery and irritated or infected. Signs include mucus, crusty eyelashes, blurred vision, and pus or blood in your tears.

If your eyes are watery, leaky, and always irritated or infected, see a doctor. The doctor may flush the duct with saline, then insert tiny balloons or tubes to open up the blockages. You might need surgery to build a new drain.

They get irritated. Your immune system can respond by making too many tears. You may also have stinging, burning, redness, and vision problems. If the symptoms don’t go away, it’s time to talk to your doctor.

If you have a mild case, artificial tears often help. You can also take prescription drugs to relieve inflammation or help create tears. Other options include inserts that act like artificial tear glands or a combination of light therapy and eye massage.

Eyelids are part of your eyes’ drainage system. If one of yours sags or turns outward, tears won’t drain the way they should and your eyes can get watery. If it grows inward, it rubs against your eye and irritates it. Other problems may include redness, mucus, dryness, and sensitivity to light.

If your lids sag or droop, or if your eyes are always watery or irritated, your doctor can help. They might prescribe artificial tears and ointments, but most people need surgery to fix the problem.

Doctors have more nonsurgical options for ingrown eyelids, like soft contacts that protect your eye. Botox and skin tape can also prevent your eye from turning in.

If you notice a large bump on your eyelid, you may have a stye or a chalazion. Styes are usually painful and bigger. Chalazions rarely hurt.

To treat an eyelid bump, soak a clean washcloth in hot water and hold it to your eyelid for 10-15 minutes. Do this 3 to 5 times a day. You may also gently massage around a chalazion with a clean finger.

If that doesn’t help, your doctor might prescribe antibiotics or a steroid shot to ease the swelling of a chalazion. If the bump won’t go away, or if it affects your vision, the doctor may drain it. Don’t ever try to pop one yourself; it can turn into an infection and you’ll probably just make things worse.

When your eyelashes grow inward, they rub against your eye. This irritates it and causes extra tears. Your doctor might pull out an ingrown lash or suggest surgery to remove the lash permanently. If you don’t get treatment, you could get more serious problems like cornea scratches and ulcers.

They can range from minor scratches to open sores called ulcers. Corneas can also get inflamed, a condition called keratitis. Each of these can cause your tears to work overtime.

If your cornea is scratched, you’ll know. Your eye will be extra watery, painful, and highly sensitive to light. When you close it, it might feel like there’s something in it. To treat it, rinse your eye with saline solution, blink several times, or pull your upper eyelid over your lower eyelid. Any of these steps may wash out the object that’s causing you problems. But see a doctor to avoid an infection.

For ulcers and keratitis, see a doctor right away. Delays may damage your eyesight or cause blindness. Your doctor will likely begin treatment with antibacterial, antiviral, or antifungal eye drops followed by anti-inflammatory drops. If your eye is hard to treat, you may need a corneal transplant to save your vision.

If you use extended-wear contact lenses or don’t take them out at night, you have a higher chance of getting keratitis. The best way to prevent this is to properly disinfect the lenses and make sure not to wear them for too long.

Less common causes of watery eyes include:

  • Bell’s palsy, a nerve condition that weakens your face muscles
  • Eye injuries
  • Exposure to chemicals and fumes
  • Inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis
  • Facial surgery
  • Certain medications

While there could be many reasons why your eyes are watery, they all share similar symptoms. That makes getting the right diagnosis so important. Visiting a doctor will help you figure out what’s causing your excess tears and the best ways to treat them.