Watery Eyes in the Elderly: Causes, Solutions, and Expert Advice

Last updated on 12 Oct 2023, Eye Health & General Information

As we age, our bodies undergo a multitude of changes, and our eyes are no exception to this process.

Some of the changes are subtle while others are near-impossible to ignore. For example, the phenomenon of persistently watery eyes or excessive tearing can be troubling enough to command attention quickly.

Excessive tearing tends to happen among older individuals and is one of the most common eye problems in elderly people. More importantly, it can have a significant impact on their comfort and well-being. We’ll discuss this condition today.

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What are watery eyes? 

Before we go into the condition of (excessively) watery eyes, also known as epiphora, we should clarify this: our eyes are always meant to have some lubrication.

Our tears, specifically, have a purpose. They lubricate the eyes and also shield them from potential irritants by washing away things like dust before they can cause damage.

Epiphora happens when the eyes produce too much lubrication or tears. This can be uncomfortable, for obvious reasons, and can be either long-term or temporary. It may also afect people of all ages, but is most common in those who are over 60.

Moreover, watery eyes in the elderly as well as others can be caused by a wide range of things. We go over some of them below.

 Causes of Watery Eyes

1. Malposition of Eyelids

Believe it or not, abnormal positioning of the eyelids can cause your eyes to overwater! Also called ectropion, this condition is a common cause of watery eyes in elderly patients.

This happens because the skin of our eyelids gets looser over time. At some point, the lower eyelids can sag and pull away from their original position. This is a problem because the shape of our eyelids actually serves to lead excess tears to the tear ducts.

Without that, the lubrication in our eyes accumulates until it reaches excessive levels. As older people tend to have looser skin, this is why this leads to watery eyes being one of the most common eye problems in the elderly.

2. Dry Eye Syndrome

Our tear glands naturally produce less tears as we age. Unfortunately, this scaling back of production can actually lead to the opposite of what you’d expect: that is, they can lead to watery eyes.

This is because reduced tear production can lead to your eyes often being dry and irritated (which is expected). Over time, your body can try to correct this by overcompensating, leading to the opposite condition – especially overly watery eyes in the elderly.

It’s also worth noting that this can happen due to some medications. Even having certain eye conditions can heighten the odds of developing watery eyes.

Shinagawa_Blog Piece Mockup_Sept 5-043. Blockage of the Tear Duct

Another common cause of watery eyes is tear duct blockage. We have channels going from the eye to the nose that our bodies use to drain excess tears. When those passages are blocked, the tears build up in your eyes.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of things that can block these channels. A common cause for this is old age.

Other common causes include infections which can cause the tapered upper end of the duct to swell shut. Trauma can also damage the ducts and impede the regular flow of tears.

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Solutions and Management Options for Watery Eyes

So, what can you do to treat your watery eyes? It actually depends on the cause, as different ones will require different treatments.

For instance, if your eyes are watery due to malposition or droopy eyelids, the chief treatment may well be surgery. This is because there is a surgical procedure that tightens the tendon holding the eyelid up, letting it stay in its proper position.

On the other hand, if the condition is caused by an infection, you are more likely to need antibiotics and regular checks to prevent scarring of the ducts. 

Meanwhile, if it is caused by Dry Eye Syndrome, you might need prescription eye drops. You can also flush blocked tear ducts with saline solution, although some doctors prefer to probe them in certain cases so that they can manually remove blockages.

Some cases may also be treated with a surgical procedure called a dacryocystorhinostomy. This involves the creation of a new channel that runs from the tear sac to the inside of your nose, avoiding the blocked portion of your tear duct.

Note that some parts of the treatment may be up to you too. For instance, it’s advised not to rub your eyes too often if they’re already watery. Not only can rubbing the eyes make the tear production worse but it can also damage your eyes.

You should also try to protect your eyes from irritants and sources of damage, e.g. ultraviolet radiation. Stay away from overly dusty environments and wear sunglasses when out in the daytime.

See an eye doctor about your watery eyes

All of this being said, you can’t really tell which treatment is best for your situation until you see a doctor. An eye specialist can assess your eyes and even run tests to figure out the cause of your condition, then prescribe treatment accordingly.

To see to that, call us to enquire or book an appointment for an eye screening today. Our eye doctors can evaluate your situation and make recommendations based on what’s best for your eye health.