What to Do About Watery Eyes

by | Mar 28, 2018

March Madness is only about half over, but if you’re anything like us, you might as well crumple up your bracket, toss it onto a rocket ship and shoot it into the sun. You aren’t winning the $10,000 grand prize from ESPN. You aren’t even going to beat your office rival Jack, who totally knows nothing about basketball and made all his picks based on which team mascot he thought would win in a fight.

The indignity of it all, the thought of losing out on riches and fame, staring up and watching your bracket hurtle toward fiery oblivion—it’s enough to make your eyes water. And unlike picking NCAA tournament basketball games, watery eyes are something we know quite a bit about at the Sight Eye Clinic.

Tears Are Good for You …

And not just because pain builds character!

As a matter of fact, even when you’re feeling great and aren’t openly weeping, your eyes constantly produce basal tears. These keep the cornea lubricated and free from dust, and even aid the immune system in fighting bacterial infections of the eye.

On top of that, your body can quickly produce a lot of reflex tears to flush out irritants and toxins when they assault your eyes. This is what happens when you get a speck of dirt in your eye, you’re cutting onions, or you get a good strong whiff of your co-worker’s particularly pungent cologne. (Darn it, Jack!)

Emotional tears—the kind you’re shedding over your busted bracket—are actually different from both basal and reflex tears, as they contain a much higher concentration of protein-based hormones and natural painkillers. That’s one reason why most people feel a lot better after a good cry!

… But You Can Have Too Much of a Good Thing

Basal, reflex, and even emotional tears have an important role to play in the health of your eyes specifically and overall wellbeing more generally. But too much of a good thing can lead to blurry visions, constant irritation and pain, or even infection. Just like standing water in a flood zone, tears that get stuck in the drainage system can become a magnet for bacteria and other invasive micro-organisms.

watery eyes

Why Your Eyes Are Always Watering

It could be that you’re just so sad about losing your office pool, or just so angry that Jack is going to be hogging all the glory this year. But we’re thinking it’s more likely something else.

Just like a flooded landscape—something we’re very familiar with this year in West Michigan—“flooded” eyes tend to be caused by one of two main factors: too much water in the first place, or poor drainage.

Too many tears. Just like how heavy rainfall mixed with rapidly melting snow can inundate rivers and put city streets underwater, too much tear production can leave your eyes constantly watery. Allergies, chemical irritations, inflammation of the surface of the eye, and even some medical conditions can all trigger excess production from tear glands.

Poor drainage. Of course, the main reason that a few days of heavy rains in spring can cause so much damage in the first place is drainage. With so much of the earth’s surface in urban and suburban pavement covered in impermeable pavement, the water has no place to go—except overflowing sewers and ever-rising river water.

Dabbing EyesIt’s the same sort of deal with your eyes. Just like the gutters, sewers, and storm management infrastructure of a city divert rainwater away from property, your tears drain into small openings in the inside corner of the upper and lower eyelids. They then travel through canals and the lacrimal sac, before traveling down a tear duct and onto your nose.

While excess tear production is the most common factor, you may have a blockage somewhere in the drainage system. Like a backed-up sewer (or, to mix in an NCAA tourney metaphor, an undersized freshman trying to drive to the basket against a stacked defense), the tears have nowhere to go.

These blockages can happen for a variety of reasons. Infection, injury, trauma, tumors, chemical reactions to medications (including anti-glaucoma medications), structural problems with nasal passages, etc. Older adults are especially susceptible since the small openings at the corners of the eyes tend to get narrower with age.

Bailing Out Your Watery Eyes

Because watery eyes have so many potential underlying causes—and any blockages could be located virtually anywhere within the drainage system—we’ll conduct a thorough examination to get the right diagnosis. This may include drainage tests using saline solution or even contrast dye to measure how quickly tears drain and identify the bottleneck.

Treatment will depend on the cause. For example, blockages in the drainage system caused by a long-term infection of the eyes or eyelids may require the use of antibiotics (pills or eyedrops) to eliminate the infection. More significant structural problems may need to be managed by stenting, intubation, catheter dilation, or surgery.

So, in other words, while your bracket may not be salvageable, your watery eyes can be fixed. And we’d be very happy to help you with that! To schedule an appointment with us here at the Sight Eye Clinic in Zeeland, MI, give us a call at (616) 772-2020.