Introduction 

A watering eye (epiphora) is when tears flow out of the eye and roll down the cheek.

It usually happens if your tears don't drain away properly or too many tears are produced.

These problems can occur as a result of conditions such as conjunctivitis (eye inflammation), problems with your eyelids, an eye injury, a blocked tear duct or something irritating your eye, such as car fumes.

Read more about what causes watering eyes.

How tears work

Tears are constantly produced to keep the eyes moist. They are produced in small glands (lacrimal glands) located underneath your upper eyelids.

When you blink, tears are spread over the front of your eyes. The tears then pass into tiny channels known as canaliculi, before draining into a tear "sac" and flowing down the tear duct into your nose.

Watering eyes are the result of problems with this process.

When to see your GP

You should see your GP if you have persistent watering eyes, or any lumps or swelling around your eyes.

Who is affected?

You can get watering eyes at any age but it is most common in young babies (0-12 months) and people over the age of 60. It can affect one or both eyes and can cause blurred vision, sore eyelids and sticky eyes. 

How are watering eyes treated?

You should make an appointment to see a GP if you are concerned by persistently watering eyes.

Watering eyes do not always need to be treated. Treatment will depend on how severe the problem is and what is causing it.

If watering eyes aren't interfering with your life, you may choose not to have treatment.

In cases where irritation is causing the eye to water, treatment involves removing the source irritation. For example, if an eyelash is growing into your eye, it can be removed.

If a watering eye is caused by a blocked tear duct, surgery may be needed to clear the blockage or create an alternative way for tears to drain away.

Read more about diagnosing watering eyes and treating watering eyes

Watering eyes are usually caused by excess tears or a blocked tear duct 

Eye health

Find out about eye tests, protecting your eyes from injury, contact lens safety and laser eye surgery

Page last reviewed: 29/01/2013

Next review due: 29/01/2015