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Watery Eyes (Epiphora) in Children: Causes, Treatment & Remedies

March 28, 2024

Babies do not produce any tears soon after their birth. It takes a few weeks for the tear ducts to start functioning efficiently. These tears are the eyes’ defence mechanism. This is how the eyes protect themselves from dust and irritants. The tears help wash out the dust and keep the eyes clean.

Have you noticed some children have tears in their eyes at all times? Many mistake it to be the aftermath of a tantrum or a meltdown. Many even think the child is ready to start crying at any given minute. However, the causes of watery eyes in children could be more than just an upset child. Children can suffer from something called epiphora. If your child has watery eyes at all times, read on to know more.

Book an appointment to consult Dr. Nandita Patwari for pediatric & Neonatology concerns

What is Epiphora?

Epiphora is a medical condition when the eyes start watering and do not stop. Tears in the eyes are usual, but there are too many tears in epiphora. The eyes find it challenging to drain them. It is usually nothing alarming. It can be just a temporary condition triggered by overhandling the eyes.

Epiphora does not affect only children. It can affect adults, too. Most people experience epiphora at some point in their lives. It can be a short episode or might need medical intervention. It varies from case to case.

Symptoms of Epiphora

It is easy to ignore epiphora for regular tearing of the eyes. Especially if it is children, many parents may not consider tears in the eyes as something to worry about. Some tell-tale symptoms of epiphora in children are:

  • Their eyes feel wet or watery at all times.
  • Tears seem to keep running down their eyes even when they are just sitting and playing.
  • They seem to keep wiping tears off their faces.
  • Their eyes seem to be brimming with tears even when they are not laughing or crying.
  • They keep rubbing their eyes.
  • They complain of pain in the eyes.
  • They strain their eyes to see clearly or when in bright-lit areas (light sensitivity and blurry vision).
  • Eyelids swell or become sore and red.

What Causes Epiphora in Children?

Tears in children’s eyes could be just some dust in the environment. Sometimes, the toys they play with may carry irritants that can cause their eyes to tear up. However, epiphora is slightly different. Some of the common epiphora causes in children are:

  • Blocked tear ducts – Tear ducts also help drain away the tears; when they are blocked, the eyes can drain the tears effectively, thus leading to watery eyes.
  • Dry eyes – When eyes are dry, we tend to rub them frequently. This constant rubbing can cause dust to enter and embed in the eyes. The rubbing can also irritate the eyes and cause it to tear up.
  • Stye – A painful red bump that looks like a pimple or a boil can form along the eyelid due to some bacterial infection. Styes can be painful and irritate the eyes, causing them to water constantly.
  • Allergy – Watery eyes are the first symptom and reaction of any allergy. A child’s immune system can react to pollen, dust, chemicals, or even pet hair, thus causing an allergic reaction.
  • Injury – A small scratch from their nails, a paper, or even a cloth can cause an abrasion on the eyeball surface. The eye recovers from this injury by tearing up.
  • Infection – Eye infections like conjunctivitis and keratitis can cause inflammation in the eyes, making them water continuously. Even a severe cold or flu can cause the eyes to water constantly.
  • Blepharitis - It is a chronic eye condition that causes the eyelids to swell. The swelling can irritate the eyes or prevent them from blinking correctly, thus causing them to water.
  • Chalazion- It is a cyst-like formation on the eyelid due to a blocked oil gland in the upper eyelids.
  • Entropion – Eyelids turn inward, causing eyelashes and skin to rub against the eyeball.

Epiphora Diagnosis

Checking a child’s eyes can be tricky. They won’t cooperate. If it is a very young child, going to a doctor can upset them and make them cry. When they are crying, it can become challenging to diagnose epiphora.

A doctor will generally do the following to confirm it is epiphora in children and not just regular tears:

  • They will first check the upper and lower eyelids to rule out any swelling, bumps, cysts, or damage.
  • They will use an ophthalmoscope to check the eyeballs and blood vessels in the eyes up close.
  • Next, they will inspect the nasal passage and sinus cavities to rule out an infection or block.
  • If there is a discharge from the eyes, they will take a sample for testing in the lab.
  • Tests to check the chemical makeup of the eyes to ensure everything is in balance.

Epiphora Treatment

In many cases, epiphora does not require any medical treatment. They can clear up on their own. The treatment for epiphora also depends on the cause. So, your child’s treatment will depend on the diagnosis.

  • If it is due to a foreign object or dust, the doctor will use a gentle stream of clean water to flush it out of the eyes.
  • If it is due to some allergy, they will treat the allergy first to see if the tears settle down on their own
  • The doctor may use drops or ointments to treat the bacteria in case of a bacterial infection.
  • In case of milk block in the tear ducts, just a warm compress from time to time can help clear up and open the clogged duct.
  • An issue with the eyelids may require surgery.
  • Viral infections can clear out on their own.
  • If the baby is an infant or too small, doctors may wait a few weeks to see if the tear ducts develop and function correctly.

What is the Best Remedy for Watery Eyes?

The best remedy for watery eyes is to clean the eyes with a clean cloth and let them be. Children can get dust into their eyes quite easily. So, parents can use cleanly washed hands to help clean out the dust. You can use some sterilized drinking water if the irritation is too much.

If the tears and irritation persist, you should consult a doctor immediately. Do not resort to self-medication. Even if they are eye drops your child is familiar with, only use them after consulting a doctor. Using the wrong drops or the wrong dosage can cause severe damage to the child’s eyes.

Also Read : Eye Spy: Signs of Vision Problems in Your Baby


Watery eyes, or epiphora, are prevalent among both children and adults. There is nothing to panic about. If your child has watery eyes, you can always seek professional help. Ask your children to follow the general hygiene rules like washing hands frequently, not touching the eyes, playing carefully with sharp-edged items, etc. It can help reduce accidents and maintain eye health.


1. What causes watery eyes in kids?

Watery eyes in kids are very common. It could be due to dust, reaction to pollutants, allergies, infections, or inflammation. In rare cases, it could be due to cysts, styes, or something more serious.

2. Does lack of sleep cause epiphora in children?

Lack of sleep can irritate the eyes. They can also become very light-sensitive, making the child rub their eyes frequently. As a result, it can lead to watery eyes. Sometimes, it can dry the eyes, paving the way to infections.

3. Can epiphora in children cause other issues?

Epiphora can make children handle their eyes excessively. They may use dirty hands to wipe away the tears, thus leading to other infections. Epiphora, as such, will not harm your child in any way. Constant tears may make it difficult for children to bend down, read, write, and do other activities on par with other children.

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