Having treatment for watering eyes will depend on how severe the problem is and what is causing it. Treatment is not always necessary.
If infective conjunctivitis is causing watering eyes, your GP may advise you to wait for a week or so to see if the condition resolves itself before prescribing a course of antibiotics.
If allergic conjunctivitis is causing watering eyes, antihistamines (medication to treat allergic conditions) may be prescribed to help reduce the inflammation (swelling).
Read more about treating conjunctivitis.
If your watering eyes are being caused by an inward-growing eyelash (entropion), or a foreign object, such as a piece of grit in your eye, the eyelash or object can be removed.
If your lower eyelid turns inwards (entropion) or outwards (ectropion), a minor operation carried out under local anaesthetic may be recommended. The most common procedure involves tightening the tendon that holds the outer eyelid in place to give it extra support.
Read more about treating ectropion.
Surgery for blocked tear ducts
Tear ducts are the tubes that excess tears drain away through. If a blocked tear duct is causing watering eyes, it can be treated with surgery. However, it is up to you whether or not you want treatment. If your watering eye is not bothering you, surgery may not be necessary.
If your eye is sticky or if there is a lump below your eye, treatment is usually recommended to avoid your eye from becoming infected. If your symptoms are particularly severe and your watering eyes are interfering with your vision for driving, reading and sports, treatment will be required.
If you have an infection in your tear sac (where excess tears from your eyes drain into), it will need to be treated with surgery. Left untreated, the infection could spread to your eye socket.
Dacryocystorhinostomy (DCR for short) is a common surgical procedure that is used to treat blocked tear ducts. It involves creating a new channel from the tear sac to the inside of your nose. This channel allows tears to bypass the blocked part of your tear duct.
A DCR is often carried out via the nose. Before having surgery, your nose will be examined to check the nasal space and that the lining of the nose is healthy.
There are several different ways that a new channel can be created. For example, by:
- removing a very small piece of bone from the side of your nose, either by making a small incision in the skin of your nose or from inside the nose, allowing the sac to be opened up; an endoscope (a narrow, flexible tube with a light at the end) is often used during the procedure (endoscopic endonasal DCR)
- using a laser to create a similar but smaller hole in the sac and bone between the sac and the nose; this can be done either from inside or outside the tear sac
- using a balloon to expand the blocked tear duct
A very thin silicone tube is inserted to keep the channel open. After a couple of months, the tube will be removed and the channel will stay open without it.
The DCR procedure is usually carried out under general anaesthetic and takes up to an hour to perform.
After having a dacryocystorhinostomy, you may need to stay in hospital overnight. You should be given instructions to follow when you are discharged – for example, not to rub your eyes or blow your nose. You may also be given some eye drops or ointment to use to prevent infection and inflammation.
There could be some bruising and swelling around your nose and eye, which should improve over a few days or weeks. You may also experience nosebleeds for a few days. However, these will usually be minor and should stop in due course.
If the drainage channels on the inside of your eye (canaliculi) are narrowed but not completely blocked, it may be possible to use a probe to widen them. If the canaliculi are completely blocked by tears, an operation to drain them may be required, involving a small glass tube (called the Jones Tube) being inserted to bypass the blockage and drain the tears.
Treating watering eyes in babies
In babies, watering eyes often resolves without the need for treatment by the time the baby is a year old.
Massaging the tear ducts may help to dislodge tears that have collected in the upper part of your baby’s tear duct, as well as encouraging the tear duct to develop. This can be done by applying light pressure with your first (index) finger and massaging from the corner of your baby’s eye towards their nose. Repeat the massage several times a day for a couple of months. Before massaging, wash your hands.
You can also soak a cloth with warm water and hold it against your baby’s eye. This may encourage the tears to drain. If your baby has an eye infection (conjunctivitis), this may need to be treated with antibiotic eye drops.
If the tear duct does not open, it may be possible for your baby to have a procedure where a probe is used to open their tear duct. This will be carried out under general anaesthetic.
Probing is not usually necessary because in 9 out of 10 cases, the tear duct opens by itself. However, a probe can be used if your child has repeated infections caused by the blocked tear duct and he or she is over a year old. Very occasionally a dacryocystorhinostomy operation is required (see above).