What causes watery eye?

In general, anything that irritates or inflames the surface of your eye can cause watery eye. Increased tear production is part of the body’s natural defense system and serves to wash away irritating substances and infectious agents.

It sounds like a contradiction, but dry eyes are the most common cause for watery eyes. The tear glands go into overdrive if the eye is too dry. Physical irritants, such as smoke or dust in the air or soap and shampoo in your home, also increase tear production. Allergies are another very common cause of watery eyes.

Infections or inflammations of the eyelid margin are also frequent causes of watery eye. These conditions include blepharitis (inflammation of the eyelid margin), chalazion (inflammation of a blocked oil gland in the eyelid margin), and stye or hordeolum (localized bacterial infection of an oil gland or eyelash follicle in the eyelid margin).

Common causes of watery eye

Watery eye symptoms may be caused by several common conditions that involve the eyes themselves or something more widespread in the body including:

  • Blepharitis (inflammation of the eyelid margin)
  • Chalazion (inflammation of a blocked oil gland in the eyelid margin)
  • Common cold (viral respiratory infection)
  • Conjunctivitis (inflammation of the eye surface)
  • Contact lens over-wear
  • Dry eye (excess reflex tear production)
  • Hay fever or allergic reaction from animal dander, dust, cosmetics or pollen
  • Local allergic reactions to makeup or personal care products (contact dermatitis)
  • Medicamentosa (sensitivity to eyedrop)
  • Physical irritation from substances, such as smoke, dust, soap or shampooStye or hordeolum (localized bacterial infection of an oil gland or eyelash follicle in the eyelid margin)

Serious causes of watery eye

Less commonly, watery eye may be caused by a serious condition including:

  • Caustic chemical in your eye
  • Foreign body embedded in your eye
  • Episcleritis or scleritis
  • Intraocular inflammation (uveitis, endophthalmitis)
  • Orbital cellulitis (invasive infection of the soft tissues around the eye)
  • Trauma to the eye area

Questions for diagnosing the cause of watery eye

To diagnose your condition, your doctor or licensed health care practitioner will ask you several questions related to your eyelid symptoms including:

  • Have you had recent eye surgery?
  • When did your eyes first become watery?
  • Does the wateriness occur in one or both of your eyes?
  • Do you have any other symptoms?
  • Has your vision changed?
  • Are you taking any medications?
  • Do you have any allergies?
  • Has anything hit you in the eye or flown into your eye?
  • Have you been around anyone with an eye infection recently?
  • Have you had a similar condition before?

What are the potential complications of watery eye?

Watery eyes are generally caused by mild conditions and usually do not result in permanent damage to the eye. In very rare cases, a watery eye may be caused by a more serious condition such as a serious allergic reaction or infection, which, left untreated, can lead to permanent complications. Once the underlying cause is diagnosed, it is important for you to follow the treatment plan that you and your health care professional design specifically for you to reduce the risk of potential complications including:

  • Chronic ocular pain or discomfort
  • Loss of vision and blindness
  • Progression of symptoms
  • Scarring of the eye
  • Spread of infection


  1. Eye burning - itching and discharge. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003034.htm.
  2. Pink eye: usually mild and easy to treat. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/Features/Conjunctivitis.
  3. Conjunctivitis: Causes of Pink Eye. American Academy of Ophthalmology. http://www.geteyesmart.org/eyesmart/diseases/conjunctivitis-cause.cfm.

What is watery eye?

Healthy tears provide a moist protective surface to the eye. Blinking refreshes the tear film and directs tear fluid towards the inner corner of the eyelids when it drains. Watery eye can be the result of irritation or inflammation in or around your eye that causes your eyelids to increase tear production. Any type of obstruction to tear outflow will interfere with normal tear drainage and... Read more about watery eyeintroduction


What other symptoms might occur with watery eye?

Depending on the cause of your watery eyes, other parts of your body may also be affected. A variety of symptoms involving your eyes or other parts of your body can occur along with watery eyes.

Common symptoms that may occur along with watery eye

Watery eye may accompany other common symptoms including:

Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Annual Review Date: Sep 30, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2014 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Eyes and Vision

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