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Watery Eyes

Symptoms, Causes, Related Conditions, Questions & Related Topics

Key Points

  • The primary causes of watery eyes include irritants like dust, pollen, smoke, and animal dander, eye injuries, and upper respiratory infections.
  • Several health conditions can also lead to watery eyes, such as allergies, corneal abrasion, concussion, conjunctivitis, and sinusitis.
  • Allergies may cause additional symptoms like itchy eyes, runny nose, sneezing, and congestion.
  • Corneal abrasion, often from sharp objects, can cause eye pain and potential future vision issues if not treated.
  • The article provides a list of questions your doctor may ask to diagnose the cause of your watery eyes.

Top 3 Watery Eyes Causes

1. Irritants

Irritants such as dust, pollen, animal dander, and smoke can cause watery eyes. Poor air quality or high levels of allergens in the air can sometimes make your eyes sore or itchy.[1] You may also have a scratchy or sore throat, a runny nose, or a dry cough. Some irritants in the air can also cause you to lose your voice.[2] Individuals who are very sensitive to air quality might have trouble breathing when exposed to certain irritants.[3] See a doctor if your watery eyes are accompanied by a persistent cough or difficulty breathing.

2. Injury

A scratch or abrasion to the eye area often causes your eyes to water. Injuries to the head or eyes can also cause vision problems, such as blurry vision.[4] These injuries sometimes cause serious medical complications. Tell your doctor about any recent head or eye injuries, even if you think your injuries are minor. Seek medical help immediately if dizziness, loss of vision, or loss of consciousness follow your head or eye injury.[4]

3. Upper Respiratory Infection

Viral or bacterial infections that affect your nose and throat can also cause watery eyes.[5] These infections usually clear up on their own. If you have an infection, you might experience a sore throat, runny nose, sneezing, coughing, or a fever.[5] You might notice that your eyes are especially watery when you cough or sneeze. Minor viral illnesses such as colds usually resolve within a week or so. See a doctor if your symptoms don’t improve. You may have a bacterial infection, which requires antibiotics.[6]

Possible Health Conditions Related to Watery Eyes

1. Allergies

Hay fever, also known as allergic rhinitis, is a common cause of watery eyes.[7] Hay fever symptoms include itchy eyes, runny nose, sneezing, and congestion. You might notice that your symptoms are worse during certain times of the year. Your symptoms may also worsen after exposure to an allergen. Common allergens include dust mites, pollen, and animal dander.[7]

While allergy symptoms are a nuisance, they are usually not dangerous. Medical treatment can help provide relief from irritating symptoms. Your doctor might recommend that you see an allergist, a doctor who specializes in treating allergies. This type of doctor can help determine which allergens trigger your symptoms. They can also help you develop a plan for managing your allergies.

2. Corneal Abrasion

Sharp or abrasive objects can scratch the surface of your eye, known as the cornea.[8] These scratches are usually shallow and don’t cause any permanent vision problems, but could cause eye pain. However, untreated scratches can become infected. An infected cornea can lead to serious vision problems in the future.

Objects than can cause corneal abrasions include sand, dirt, small rocks, wood shavings, splinters, and fingernails.[9] You can prevent corneal abrasions by wearing appropriate eye protection while playing sports or doing construction work. Ask your doctor for more advice on how to protect your eyes from accidental damage.

If you suspect a corneal abrasion, flush the eye with clean water or a sterile saline solution.[8] Seek medical care as soon as possible. Most minor scratches heal on their own. Your doctor might recommend using antibiotic eye drops to help prevent infection.

3. Concussion

A concussion is a traumatic brain injury usually caused by a blow to the head.[4] Sports injuries, car accidents, and falls are common causes of concussions. It is possible to have a concussion and not realize it. You might have a concussion even if the blow to your head did not cause you to lose consciousness.[4]

Report any head injuries to your doctor right away. If you experience severe dizziness, vomiting, or confusion after a blow to the head, call 911.[4] Many head injuries heal on their own, but your doctor might want to keep you under observation or perform additional tests to check for complications.

4. Conjunctivitis

Conjunctivitis, commonly known as pink eye, is an inflammation of a thin membrane in the eye called the conjunctiva. Pink eye is often caused by a viral infection.[10] The condition is especially common among schoolchildren. Viral or bacterial infections of the conjunctiva are often highly contagious.

If you have pink eye, the tissue in your eye may look red, bloodshot, or swollen. One or both eyes may feel itchy and gritty. You might have discharge from your eyes, or your eyes might be crusty when you wake up in the morning.[10]

Pink eye is usually not dangerous. Medical treatment can help prevent further infections or speed healing. Prompt treatment can also keep you from spreading a contagious illness to others. See a doctor if your watery eyes are accompanied by redness or swelling. Be sure to notify your doctor if others in your family develop similar symptoms.

5. Sinusitis

Infection or inflammation of the sinuses can sometimes cause watery eyes. Sinusitis can also cause a sore throat, runny nose, cough, or nasal congestion. You might have yellow or greenish discharge from your eyes or nose.[11]

Sinusitis sometimes clears on its own. But if your sinusitis is caused by a bacterial infection, you might need antibiotics. Another form of sinusitis, known as chronic sinusitis, can trigger chronic inflammation in your sinuses.[12] If you have this type of sinusitis, seek care from an allergist or another specialist.

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Watery Eyes

  • When did your symptoms begin?
  • Have you experienced cold symptoms such as coughing or sneezing?
  • Have you noticed any pus or colored discharge from the eyes?
  • Did you recently scratch or injure your eye?
  • Does anyone in your family, workplace, or school have similar symptoms?

Watery Eyes May Also Be Known as

  • Watering eye
  • Epiphora
  • Teary eyes
  • Tearing
  • Epiphora
  • Epiphora
  • Epiphora


  1. WebMD. What’s Irritating My Eyes?
  2. Mayo Clinic. Laryngitis.
  3. American Academy of Family Physicians. Outdoor Air Pollution.
  4. Mayo Clinic. Concussion.
  5. Stanford Children’s Health. Upper Respiratory Infection (URI or Common Cold).
  6. WebMD. Bacterial and Viral Infections.
  7. Mayo Clinic. Hay fever.
  8. Mayo Clinic. Corneal abrasion (scratch): First aid.
  9. American Academy of Family Physicians. Corneal Abrasions.
  10. Mayo Clinic. Pink eye (conjunctivitis).
  11. Mayo Clinic. Acute sinusitis.
  12. Mayo Clinic. Chronic sinusitis.

Frequently asked questions

  • What are the top three causes of watery eyes?

    The top three causes of watery eyes are irritants like dust, pollen, smoke, and animal dander, injuries to the eye, and upper respiratory infections.
  • What health conditions can cause watery eyes?

    Health conditions that can cause watery eyes include allergies, corneal abrasion, concussion, conjunctivitis, and sinusitis.
  • What additional symptoms might I experience if allergies are causing my watery eyes?

    If allergies are the cause, you might also experience itchy eyes, a runny nose, sneezing, and congestion.
  • Can a corneal abrasion cause watery eyes and are there any potential future issues if it's not treated?

    Yes, a corneal abrasion, often caused by sharp objects, can lead to watery eyes, eye pain, and potential future vision problems if left untreated.
  • What might a doctor ask me to diagnose the cause of my watery eyes?

    A doctor may ask when your symptoms began, if you've had any cold symptoms, if there's any discharge from your eyes, if you've recently injured your eye, and if anyone in your immediate environment has similar symptoms.

Related Health Concerns



Athlete's Foot

Bee sting

Canker Sore

Detached Retina

Double Vision

Ear Infection

Eye Pain

Facial Tenderness

Itchy Eyes


Macular Degeneration

Shortness of Breath

Swollen Eyelid

Tonsil Stones


Vision Loss

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