Can Dry Eyes Cause You To Tear?

Tearing is a problem that can be caused by many different factors - including dry eyes.

Dry eyes might not be your first thought if your eyes are tearing all the time but there is a mechanism by which dry eyes may cause you to tear.

Your body has two different pathways by which tears are produced: basal tear production and reflex tearing.

Basal tear production is accomplished through part of our nervous system called the parasympathetic pathway. This pathway makes our tear glands produce a low, constant level of tears to keep the eye surface moist and comfortable.

If the tear glands produce too few basal tears the eye gets dry and irritated.

This irritation is picked up by the corneal nerves and a signal is sent to the brain.  The irritation on the eye surface is interpreted by the brain in the same way as when there is foreign body in the eye.

This kicks in a reflex that now gets transmitted through our sympathetic nervous system pathway to make the tear glands produce a sudden flood of tears in attempt to wash out any irritant or foreign body, thus producing tearing.

That is the mechanism of how dry eyes ends up producing tearing. Too few basal tears make the eyes get irritated and that irritation incites a reflex that makes the eye tear.

But dry eyes are not the only thing that can cause the eyes to tear frequently.

You could have an obstruction to the tear drainage system so the tears have no place to drain and they just pour out of the eye

Many people also notice they tear more as they get older. That’s because the eyelids that help pump the tears down the tear drainage duct get looser and can’t pump tears as effectively as they used to.

You also could have several other issues that irritate the eye surface and cause some tearing. Allergies can do it, so can pollution, poor air quality, wind, dust, and more. The list gets long and can make it difficult to pinpoint a reason.

A comprehensive exam can help narrow the possible causes of your tearing and help direct potential treatment to improve the problem.

So yes, dry eyes can, somewhat paradoxically, cause your eyes to tear.

Article contributed by Dr. Brian Wnorowski, M.D.

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