Eye disease · Overview

Causes of watering eyes (epiphora)


Definition of epiphora

Epiphora is the medical term for severely watering or oozing eyes with lacrimation or excess liquid formation over the eyelids. This is an imbalance between tear production and outflow via the draining tear ducts.


Frequent causes of epiphora

There are various causes for watering eyes: excessive tear production, irritation with or without a cold, foreign bodies in the eye, eye injuries, malpositioned eyelids or a narrowing or blockage of the draining tear ducts. Epiphora may develop at birth or be caused later by disease, allergies, or a classic flu-like infection. Especially with colds, watering eyes are typical.




Typical course of an infection

During an infection, the nasopharynx is attacked first by pathogens, which also ascend to the nearby sinuses and descend to the airways. The lacrimal duct is located in the nasal cavity under the second turbinate. As a connection to the upper and lower eyelids, this duct is considered another entry point for pathogens of all types.
A possible infestation by germs causes the mucous membranes to swell. However, because the tear duct is very small with a diameter of less than one millimetre, this results in problems. The duct wall also swells during the course of the infection. The already irritated mucous membrane of the eye now wants to flush away the pathogens with strong tear secretion, but cannot do so adequately because the drainage tube, i.e. the tear duct, is narrowed or even swollen shut. This is usually caused by the extensive inflammation of the mucous membranes lining all surfaces of the sinuses.


Infection treatment

The first thing is to diagnose whether the infection is bacterial or viral, because the treatment differs. If the eyes are severely swollen, additional decongestant treatments are used to return tearing and drainage to normal as quickly as possible. In the event of a deep infection of the tear duct wall, the wall structure may have been permanently damaged. In this rare case, the resulting constriction, similar to an hourglass, will lead to recurrent and painful duct infections with epiphora and pus secretion. Surgery of the duct wall with prior imaging is usually unavoidable. Therefore, prompt treatment of a cold that involves the eyes is extremely useful. You should also visit our EyeCentre quickly if you have persistently watering eyes due to a flu-like infection.


We will be happy to advise you at our practice at Zurich Bellevue. Our competent team is also here for you in emergencies. Contact us now!