The healthy eye is a wet one, thanks to the hard work of the tear duct (lacrimal) system around the eyes. When everything is working properly, you experience clear vision and comfort. Unfortunately, sometimes things go awry and problems arise as a result. There are a variety of potential causes of excessive tearing, including allergies, eye infections, blocked tear ducts, and digital eye strain, as well as certain environmental conditions.

tearductThe nasolacrimal duct is the “drain pipe” in each of our four eyelids that allows the proper transportation of tears away from our eyes into our nasal passages. This is why our noses “run” when we cry, as the tears are drained into our nose through the eyelids as well as running down our face.

Dry Eyes

Many of our patients experience Dry Eye Syndrome, where their eyes feel itchy, gritty, and uncomfortable as a result of decreased tear production or deterioration in tear quality.

Believe it or not, excessive tearing can also be a symptom of dry eyes, as your body tries to overcompensate for a deficiency by producing an over abundance of tears. When the eyes are so dry that they feel gritty and burn, the brain receives a signal from the ocular nerves that there is something foreign in the eyes. The brain responds by signaling to “turn the tears on” to wash out any foreign bodies.


Viral conjunctivitis has many of the same symptoms as bacterial conjunctivitis. Viral eye infections make the eyes look pink in color, whereas bacterial infections make the eyes more red than pink. Another difference between viral and bacterial infections is that viral infections cause more excessive tearing, with little to no pus in the discharge. Bacterial infections usually involve heavy amounts of pus. Viral eye infections may last anywhere from a few days up to several months. Like all viruses, there are not many treatment options for this type of infection other than cold compresses to comfort the eyes. Infrequently, a doctor may use a steroid eye drop in an attempt to make a very uncomfortable patient feel better, but it does not alter the course of the virus.

Allergic conjunctivitis is more common in adults than children, but it may occur at any age. Allergic conjunctivitis occurs in a rapid fashion as the result of exposure to pollen, grass, dust mites, chemical exposure, certain foods, or exposure to any other substance that you are allergic to. It can be either acute or chronic. Once the diagnosis of allergic conjunctivitis is made, oral antihistamines and the application of cold compresses on they eyes themselves will help. Chronic allergic conjunctivitis is typically a less severe, but longer lasting manifestation of the same signs and symptoms. Acute conjunctivitis normally occurs when there’s a limited exposure to the offending agent and then it’s removed, whereas chronic conjunctivitis is a result of prolonged exposure to the allergen.

Corneal Abrasions

red_eyeThe cornea is the clear tissue over the colored part of the eye. Millions of pain-receptor nerves reside in this tissue, the purpose of which is to cause immediate awareness of any threat to the well being of the corneal tissue. Even the smallest corneal abrasions are extremely painful. The symptoms of a corneal abrasion usually include an acute, stabbing pain upon opening the eyes. Excessive tearing, blurred vision, and light sensitivity usually accompany the eye pain. Fortunately, the cornea has the wonderful ability to heal itself swiftly. Most abrasions do not cause permanent scarring or long-term vision loss when they are treated properly and promptly. However, severe injuries to the cornea may leave scarring that permanently damages or destroys eyesight.

Environmental Factors

woodstoveDuring the winter, the cold weather and dry air can cause a few problems: dry skin, dry eyes, cracked hands, and more. The winter winds are also particularly irritating to the eyes. Additionally, our heat pumps, wood stoves, and fireplaces do a good job of keeping us warm, but they also tend to remove much of the moisture in the air inside our homes, exacerbating the dry air issues. Utilizing humidifiers or other methods to keep the in-house humidity levels at the recommended level between 30-40% in the winter. You may also talk to your Primary Eyecare doctor about using artificial tears to help with dry eyes caused by your environment.

Excessive Tearing in Infants

After we’re born, our eyes don’t begin producing tears for at least a couple of weeks, and it may also take several weeks for the nasolacrimal canal (which contains the duct) to fully open. Dacryostenosis is a condition affecting up to 30 percent of infants in which the nasolacrimal duct does not fully open, preventing proper tear drainage. The main symptom of this blockage is excessive tearing, since the tears overflow out of the eye rather than draining properly into the nasal passages. Often, there is discharge and crusting around the eyes when the nasolacrimal canal is blocked. After the diagnosis of dacryostenosis, the initial treatment is to gently massage the affected area of the side of the nose and eyelid three times a day. Over the course of several days, the massages will often successfully break up the internal blockage and allow tears to begin normal flow through the canal. It’s also helpful to use a clean, warm It’s also helpful to use a clean, warm washcloth to wipe away any discharge that may dry and accumulate around the eyelids. Keeping this area clean and free of debris can help to prevent dacryocystitis from developing or returning.

No matter what’s causing your excessive tears, the doctors at Primary Eyecare are ready to help. Please call us at (434) 977-2020 or Request An Appointment online so that we can help determine the cause and right course of treatment to help you maximize your precious gift of sight!

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED: Copyright © | Dr. Joseph DiGirolamo, OD | The Big Book of Family Eye Care