In order for the eyes to work correctly, tears are essential. They wash away debris and dust particles that make their way into your eyes and they keep the eyes nice and moist. However, there are instances in which the eyes will go overboard and produce an excessive amount of tears. This gives the affected person a constant teary-eyed appearance and can make them look like they have red eyes from crying. Unfortunately, as we grow older, our tear ducts may start to work overtime, which is one of the causes of watery eyes in the elderly. Glands that don’t function properly is another common cause and one that can be hard to treat in seniors.
The causes of watery eyes in the elderly include
- Diabetic retinopathy
- Dry eyes
- Eye infections
- Poor meibomian gland function
- Blocked or narrow tear ducts
As you can see, there are several conditions that can cause excessive tearing. For mild conditions, over the counter eye drops and other home treatments can be sufficient in controlling tear production and minimizing other symptoms. For more serious conditions, medical treatment will be necessary. If you have tried home treatments for two days with no changes or if your symptoms worsen, it’s important that you make an appointment with your eye care specialist to rule out more serious eye health issues.
Age-Related Eye Conditions
As we grow older, many changes occur in our bodies that don’t affect our vision such as smile lines under eyes. Unfortunately, many of these changes can impact our vision, ranging from age-related macular degeneration, farsightedness, and cataracts to chronic red eyes and dry eye syndrome. However, there are many other common eye disorders that can impact our vision as we grow older. Some of these can be successfully treated and managed, while others cannot.
The following changes in the eyes occur as we age:
- Conjunctiva thins
- Browning or yellowing of the eye caused by several years of exposure to dust, wind, UV light
- Bluish tint
Additionally, as we age, the number of mucous cells found in the conjunctiva starts to decrease. Tear production can also decrease which means there will be fewer tears available to keep the eyes moist. Because of this, the elderly are more prone to developing dry eyes.
Certain retinal diseases are more likely to occur when we’re older, including diabetic retinopathy and macular degeneration. Other eye diseases such as glaucoma, also become more common.
There are many underlying causes of excessive tearing in the elderly that I’ll go over, in addition to the common treatment options available.
While eye allergies, irritation, and infections can cause watery eyes, dry eyes are one of the most common culprits behind excessive tear production. People affected with dry eyes can go through a period of dry eyes that are very raw and tender, followed by a period in which their eyes are constantly producing tears. There are many causes of dry eye syndrome, and while some of the causes can be addressed and treated, others are a direct result of aging.
The meibomian glands in the eyes work by secreting a type of oil that prevents the tears from evaporating quickly. But when these glands fail to function properly, dry patches will develop and tear production tends to go into overdrive. This condition is known as meibomian gland dysfunction, which causes an overproduction of tears which are released as a reflex caused by eyes that are dry and sore.
As we age, our lower eyelids begin to sag, so it can be hard for the tears to move through the correct path directly to the drainage ducts. Fortunately, this condition is easily managed by a simple surgical procedure. If a person’s eyelids roll inward, the same problem can also occur, in which case, surgery is also the best treatment option available.
As we grow older, our immune system just isn’t what it used to be when we were in our twenties. This means we’re more susceptible to infections and general irritation. Because of this, proper hygiene will also be essential, especially if you have a history of eye infections. Eye infections such as viral and bacterial pink eye can cause red eyes, inflammation, eye pain and headache, discharge, and excessive tearing.
This condition involves the overflow of tears onto the face without a known cause. Instead of the tears draining through the nasolacrimal system they will overflow onto the face due to insufficient drainage in the eyes. While epiphora can affect a person at any age, it’s more commonly seen in infants under one year of age and in people over the age of sixty. It can affect one or both eyes. The two main causes include a blocked tear duct and excessive tear production. Some people can be born with an underdeveloped tear duct, however, in many cases, newborns will suffer from a blocked duct that will clear up on its own as the ducts develop.
In the elderly, one of the most common causes of watery eyes is a duct that’s too narrow or a blocked duct. A narrowed duct is often the result of inflammation. If the ducts are blocked or have narrowed then the tears will not be able to drain properly. This will cause the tears to build up in the tear sac. Old tears left in the tear sac can cause an infection, resulting in the production of eye discharge, which often makes the problem much worse.
Very narrow drainage channels on the inside of the canaliculi can also become blocked, which can be caused by scarring or swelling.
Serious Eye Issues that Can Cause Excessive Tearing
If your eyes are constantly watering and you have some of the following symptoms, it’s important that you make an appointment with an eye care specialist as soon as possible:
- Changes in vision accompanied by excessive tearing
- Bulging eyes
- Excessive tearing and pain
- How to relieve watery eyes will depend on the underlying cause, but if it’s something as simple as dry eyes, you can try hot or cold compresses several times a day. If the compresses are not effective you can also use the best eye drops, which are designed to lubricate the eyes and minimize many symptoms associated with dry eye syndrome. I recommend TheraTears eye drops for dry eye therapy. These drops can be used several times a day and should be applied when your eyes begin to tear or they become irritated, red, and tender. If you use these drops for two to three days without relief, then it may be time to make an appointment with your doctor.
- If your watery eyes are caused by an infection, antibiotic drops may be prescribed. Eye allergies can also cause increased tear production. Fortunately, many antihistamine eye drops these days can help to provide instant relief from environmental and seasonal allergies.
- If the cause of excessive tearing is a blocked tear duct, then surgery may be required. A simple surgery can create an entirely new channel from the nose to the tear sac, which will allow the tears to go around the blocked portion of the tear duct.
- If the tear duct is very narrowed but it’s not blocked entirely, a physician may use a type of probe that can widen the channel.
If you’ve tried over the counter treatments and home remedies with no success after two to three days, then it’s time you make an appointment with your primary doctor or an eye care specialist.
How Do You Treat Watery Eyes?
Treatment will depend on the underlying cause. If you have been diagnosed with dry eyes, your doctor may recommend over the counter lubricating eye drops, however, in severe cases they may need to treat your condition using prescription-strength drops. For bacterial infections, antibiotic drops or ointments are often recommended. If you have a blocked or narrow tear duct, surgery may be required.
What is a Home Remedy for Watery Eyes?
Home remedies for watery eyes can include placing warm tea bags over the eyes, hot or cold compresses, washing the eyes out with baby shampoo, avoiding the use of eye makeup and the use of eye drops designed to treat red eyes, or saline solution for eye infections.
Does Drinking Water Help Dry Eyes?
If your chronic case of dry eyes is often caused by dehydration, then increasing your water intake can help to improve eye health. Drinking more water will help to properly hydrate the eyes, reducing eye strain, and it can also help to flush out salt in the body.
There are many causes of watery eyes in the elderly, however, the most common is dry eye syndrome, which can cause excessive tearing. Other common causes include poor meibomian gland function, blocked tear ducts, infection, and epiphora. If you’ve tried over the counter eye drops, hot compresses, and other types of home treatments that have not had an impact on your condition after two days, make an appointment with an eye specialist to rule out more serious causes, such as diabetic retinopathy or glaucoma.