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

Last updated on 16 May 2024, 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.

This excessive tearing is also known as epiphora. It tends to happen among older individuals and is a very common eye problem in elderly people.

More importantly, it can have a significant impact on their comfort and well-being. If you or someone you know suffers from epiphora, you can learn more about its causes and treatment below.

What are watery eyes?

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

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

Having excessive tears can be uncomfortable, for obvious reasons, and can be either long-term or temporary. Some people can even have so much excess that the tears flow down the cheeks, and this is known as epiphora.

Such situations can affect people of all ages, but is more common as we get older. Moreover, watery eyes in the elderly as well as others can be caused by a wide range of things – some of which we discuss below.

Causes of Watery Eyes

Common Cause 1: Malposition of Eyelids

Abnormal positioning of the eyelids can cause your eyes to tear! Ectropions and entropions are in-turning or out-turning of the eyelids, and are 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 helps 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.

Common Cause 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 over time.

The result? 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 diseases can heighten the odds of developing watery eyes.

Common Cause 3: Blockage of the Tear Duct

Another 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 and eventually overflows leads to epiphora.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of things that can cause blockage of the tear ducts.

  • Old age can make tear duct blockages more common. That’s because as we age, the openings for our tear ducts get narrower. Also, the inside of the tear ducts can naturally narrow over time.
  • Infections can also cause duct blockages. Once the infection settles, it causes scarring within the tear ducts and blockage
  • Trauma can also lead to blockages, often by damaging the ducts and impeding the regular flow of tears.

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.

Some mild cases resolve on their own, whereas some will need intervention or even surgery.

Medical Treatments for Watery Eyes

1. Surgery
This is the treatment for watery eyes caused by malpositioned or droopy eyelids. The procedure often requires the surgeon to tighten the tendon that holds up the eyelid. This keeps it in its proper position.

2. Antibiotics

This is usually prescribed if the cause of the epiphora is a bacterial infection. Viral infections cannot be addressed by antibiotics, of course, but they usually resolve by themselves.

3. Foreign object removal
This is the treatment for those whose watery eyes are triggered by a foreign object stuck in the eye.

4. Tear duct widening
In this treatment, a doctor uses a metal probe to widen openings or remove blockages in the tear ducts. This is followed by a sterile solution flush to ensure the ducts are clear.

5. 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.

6. Prescription eye drops
Typically prescribed if the watery eyes are caused by Dry Eye Syndrome. There are artificial lubricants or stronger medications that may be needed.

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. While your situation may be mild enough to require little more than irritant avoidance, another person’s may be grave enough to need surgery.

This is why you need to see an eye specialist for the condition. They 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.