It’s one of those things that doesn’t sound all that bothersome until you experience it yourself: eyes that start watering for no discernible reason. A close family member once had such a severe version of this problem that the resulting blurry vision ruled out driving.
If you have a history of allergies, or come from an allergic family, a condition called allergic conjunctivitis is certainly one possible cause. But it’s not the only one.
It might seem counterintuitive, excessive watering can be a symptom of so-called dry eye syndrome. Our tears contain natural oils, which form a film on the surface of the eye. This acts like a sort of ‘swimming pool cover’, preventing moisture from evaporating too quickly. You’d think that would lead to gritty-feeling, irritated eyes, and it often does. In some people, however, the body responds by sending the tear ducts into overdrive. Nor are dry eye or allergies the only potential culprits behind excessive tearing.
Your optometrist is one of the health professionals who can help narrow down the list of suspects and recommend treatments to manage the symptoms.
For more information, you can read the advice an allergist and optometrist offered a reader who wrote in to Good Times with this question: I just turned 70, and I have had postnasal drip as long as I can remember, but for the last 18 months, I’ve also had a problem with watery (not itchy) eyes. People often ask why I’m crying. We have two cats, but I’m no better or worse near them. My doctor gave me a nasal spray and I’ve taken allergy medicine but nothing helps, and my eyes water all the time now. Ideas?
Thank-you to the two experts who were kind enough to speak with us for the story: Dr. Anne Ellis, a professor of medicine and chair of the division of allergy at Queen’s University in Kingston, ON; and Kirsten North, an Ottawa optometrist and consultant in professional practice and health policy for the Canadian Association of Optometrists.