What causes watery eyes? I'm 80 years old, and it seems like my eyes are constantly tearing. Can I do anything about it?

Answers from Dennis Robertson, M.D.

Watery eyes or excess tearing can have many causes. One of the most common causes of excess tearing is an age-related change that affects your eyelids.

Normally when you blink, your eyelids move tears across your cornea to the little openings at the inner part of your eyelids (the puncta). Tears enter the puncta and travel through small collecting ducts. Then they pass into your nose through another small duct (nasolacrimal duct). As you get older, the muscles and tendons in your eyelids tend to relax. If they relax too much, the inner part of your eyelid may not lie flat against your eye surface (ectropion). This prevents tears from entering the puncta, resulting in tears pooling in the corners of your eyes. When the tears pool, they may become stagnant and irritate the eyes. Treatment of ectropion may include artificial tears, lubricating eye ointments, or surgery to tighten the tendons and muscles of your eyelid.

Another common age-related cause of tearing is a blocked tear duct. The blockage can occur anywhere along the tear ducts from the puncta to the nasolacrimal canal. If the puncta are partially blocked, they sometimes can be dilated with a small instrument, which may provide temporary relief from tearing. If the blockage is more severe, it often can be treated with a relatively simple surgical procedure (punctoplasty) in your ophthalmologist's office.

Other causes of watery eyes include:

  • Eye irritation
  • Eye infection
  • Excessively dry eyes
  • Allergies
  • An underlying medical condition, such as a thyroid disorder

To determine the cause of watery eyes, consult an ophthalmologist. Treatment, when possible, depends on the underlying cause.

Jun. 24, 2008