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Watery Eyes (Epiphora) In Children: Causes, Treatment, And Remedies

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Watery eyes is a condition where tears fill up the child’s eyes excessively and fall onto the face, making it look like they are weeping. The condition is also known as epiphora and could be due to a blocked tear duct, allergies, etc., and not due to an emotional trigger.

Usually, watery eyes in children may get resolved without any treatment or remedy, while some cases might require medications or surgery. Your doctor is the best person to decide the course of treatment for your child.

Knowledge of the various causes and their symptoms would help you seek medical attention in time. In this post, MomJunction tells you about the various causes of watery eyes in children, their symptoms, and treatment options.

Possible Causes And Their Treatments For Watery Eyes In Children

Most causes of watery eyes in children can be treated or managed. Read on to know more about the reasons.

1. Blocked tear ducts

This common condition in infants is also known as congenital nasolacrimal duct obstruction (NLDO) or dacryostenosis. In children with this condition, the opening of the tear duct is not appropriately formed, which might result in watery eyes.

This can occur in one eye or both eyes, may go away on its own, or be intermittent.

Associated Symptoms

Along with watery eyes, other symptoms of blocked tear ducts might include:

  • Tear pool at the corner of the eyes.
  • Mucus or yellow discharge due to infection because of the stagnant and moist environment in the tear duct; this could also cause sticky eyes in the morning.
  • Redness of eyes due to rubbing (1).

Treatment

  • The eye doctor would do a physical examination to find out your child’s condition.
  • Based on the examination, they might suggest waiting for it to resolve on its own or clearing the duct opening manually using a probe.
  • There is conflicting evidence as to when the optimal time is to do the procedure. It is a technically difficult procedure and as with any procedure does not have a 100% outcome.
  • Most of these cases resolve spontaneously within the first 6 to 12 months.
  • There is some evidence that a lateral nasal massage can speed up the process. Place your thumb or forefinger on the region where the inside of the eye and nasal bone meet. Stroke downward firmly. This might help the pus or fluid that is trapped in the tear sac, to move downward due to the pressure put by the finger. You may try about five strokes, three to four times a day for several weeks. (2).

2. Allergies

Watery eyes could also be a symptom of allergies (allergic conjunctivitis). The cause of such allergic reactions could be an external factor, such as insect bite or sting, dust, mites, mold spores, pollen, ragweed, grass, foods such as dairy, eggs, soy, nuts, hay fever, and sometimes certain medications.

Associated symptoms

  • Runny nose
  • Nasal congestion
  • Sneezing
  • Itchy red and swollen eyes
  • Headache
  • Itchy nose, mouth, and throat

Treatment: Identifying and avoiding the allergy-causing agent can help in preventing allergic reactions. You may also:

  • Keep your home dust-free
  • Discourage your children from going out and playing when there is pollen in the air
  • Clean and replace the filters in your house regularly
  • Use wraparound sunglasses when there is dust in the air
  • Avoid second hand smoke

If it is not always possible to avoid an allergen, then take your child to the doctor, and they might prescribe antihistamine eye drops and other medications to relieve the symptoms (3).

3. Dry eye syndrome

Sometimes, watery eyes can be due to dry eye syndrome. It may seem unlikely, but dry eye syndrome can stimulate the tear glands to overproduce tears as a protective response (3).

Associated symptoms

  • A sensation that a foreign body is in the eye
  • Burning sensation
  • Rubbing of eyes and redness (4)

Treatment: Once your child’s doctor confirms the diagnosis of dry eye syndrome, they may prescribe eye drops, gels, and artificial tears.

4. Conjunctivitis (pink eye)

Watering of eyes in children could also be due to an infection called conjunctivitis. Also known as pink eye, this is a common eye infection in children likely to be caused due to allergies, or bacterial or viral infections (5).

Associated symptoms

The symptoms could vary based on what is causing the eye infection, and may include:

  • Watery discharge, if the infection is due to viruses
  • Pus-filled eye discharge in the case of bacterial infection
  • Sometimes, fever and sore throat may also be experienced
  • Eyelid swelling or corneal ulcers

Treatment: The treatment options vary according to the causative microorganism; your child’s doctor might prescribe broad-spectrum antibiotics and eye ointments in the case of bacterial infections. There is no specific treatment for viral infections, and it might get better on its own in a week or two. However, antibiotics and eye ointments could be given to prevent secondary infections (6).

5. Common cold

Red eyes, with watery discharge, is a common symptom of a cold. If there is pus in the discharge, then it could indicate a bacterial infection.

Associated symptoms

  • Runny nose
  • Nasal congestion
  • Sneezing
  • Coughing
  • Sore throat

Treatment: Common cold usually gets better on its own in a week. However, you could try certain home care tips such as using humidifiers, clearing the nasal congestion with a suction bulb, or using some over-the-counter cold medications (consult your doctor if your child is below three years) (7).

6. Eye injuries

Children are susceptible to eye injuries while playing. The injury would be on the white part of the eye. If they are using contact lenses, they might have watery eyes.

Associated symptoms

  • Eye pain
  • Feeling the presence of a foreign body in the eye
  • Teary eyes

Treatment: If the pain is mild and the scratch is superficial, then it would resolve on its own. Rinsing your eye with clear water, avoiding rubbing or touching the eye can help speed up the recovery. However, if the pain is unbearable and if you have noticed damage to the pupil, then take your child to the doctor (8).

7. Blepharitis

This condition causes inflammation of the eyelids. Although this is not a serious condition, it might cause complications, such as permanent alteration of eyelid structure, if left untreated.

Associated symptoms

  • External discomfort in the eye
  • Watery eyes
  • Redness of the eyes
  • A sensation of a foreign body in the eye
  • Crusting of eyelids

Treatment: Primary care involves massaging and rinsing the eyelids to remove the dead skin debris and crusting. Your child’s doctor might also prescribe antibiotics (9).

8. Other causes

Watery eyes could also be due to bright light, irritation due to foreign objects in the eyes, eye strain due to prolonged exposure to smartphones, excessive laughing, and yawning.

Treatment: These are normal conditions and usually do not need medical intervention. Rinsing the eyes with water to remove the foreign object and restricting your child’s screen time might help.

[ Read:  Effects Of Television On Children ]

When To See A Doctor?

Take your child to a doctor if you notice any of the following signs, along with watery eyes.

  • Eyes exposed to or come in contact with chemicals
  • Inflammation and redness with severe pain
  • Suspect a major eye injury
  • High amounts of eye discharge
  • Child is often rubbing the eyes
  • Prolonged watering of eyes
  • Change in the color of the eye – especially if only one eye is involved and is red and painful – then see a doctor as soon as possible

Home Remedies For Watery Eyes In Children

Watery eyes might be a symptom of an underlying cause, so it is always advised to look for other signs and identify the underlying cause. Your child’s doctor would determine the best course of treatment after examining your child’s eye and the additional symptoms.

In addition to the treatment, you may also consider trying some of these home remedies to provide relief to watery eyes. However, try these home remedies only if there is mild pain but no irritation.

  1. Saline water: In the case of conjunctivitis, you could consider cleaning the eyes with clean water or normal saline solution before applying the eye ointment (10). Saltwater has been traditionally used as a treatment option for an eye infection, as it has antimicrobial properties.
  1. Teabags: There are no studies to prove if tea bags can help in treating the underlying problem for watery eyes. However, some teas such as Rooibos tea and black tea are said to have anti-inflammatory properties that might help in soothing the eye and providing comfort (11) (12). You can place cold tea bags on your child’s eyes, while they keep their eyes closed for 15 minutes.
  1. Massage: If your doctor has recommended waiting until your child’s tear ducts open up on their own, then massage might help. To perform the massage,
  • Put one drop of the prescribed eye drops in the eye.
  • Place your index finger near the side of the nose under the eye to be massaged.
  • Move your finger in short downward strokes while pressing firmly.
  • Repeat this thrice daily (13).
  1. Hot compress: For bacterial eye infections, the American Academy of Ophthalmology suggests soaking a clean washcloth in warm water and placing it on the eyes until it becomes cold (14).

According to a Cochrane review, a warm compress is also said to ensure eyelid hygiene (15). Hot compresses are also considered as traditional treatments for dry eye (16).

  1. Cold compress: According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, applying cold compress might help in reducing watery eyes due to allergies. Soak a washcloth in cold water and put it on the child’s eyes for a few minutes. You can repeat this several times in a day (14).

[ Read: Allergies In Children ]

Can You Prevent Watery Eyes In Children?

Prevention is possible based on the underlying cause of watery eyes in children. You may try the following measures to prevent watery eyes due to infection, allergies, common cold, or eye injuries.

  • Make sure your child does not share towels and bedsheets with people who have conjunctivitis.
  • Identify the allergens and try to keep your children away from them.
  • Explain the importance of safety and hygiene during playtime and around pets – never touch the eyes immediately after touching something dirty or a pet.
  • Include a balanced diet for your children to strengthen their immunity and make them less prone to the common cold.
  • If your children are using contact lenses, then make sure they use them properly to avoid infections or injuries to the eye.

[ Read: Food Allergies In Children ]

Watery eyes in children may or may not be a complication based on the underlying cause. However, if you find any abnormal changes in the eye or if the tears are persistent for a long time, then take your child to a doctor.

Did your children have watery eyes? How did you manage? Let us know in the comments section below.

References:

1. Yomayra Perez; Bhupendra C. Patel; Magda D. Mendez;  Nasolacrimal Duct Obstruction; NCBI
2. Petris C, Liu D; Using a probe to clear a blockage in a child’s tear duct;; Cochrane Review
3. Ahmed Elshemy, Mohammed Abobakr; Allergic Reaction: Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment and Management; Journal Of Scientific & Innovative Research
4. Laura B. Kaufman; Are We Missing Dry Eye in Children?; American Academy of Ophthalmology
5. Conjunctivitis; American Optometric Association
6. Tissa Senaratne, and Clare Gilbert; Conjunctivitis; Community Eye Health Journal
7. Colds in children; Canadian Paediatric Society
8. Kierstan Boyd and Dan Gudgel; First Aid for Eye Scratches; American Academy of Ophthalmology
9. Chirstopher M Putnam; Diagnosis and management of blepharitis: an optometrist’s perspective; Dovepress
10. Isaac Baba; The red eye – first aid at the primary level; Community Eye Health Journal
11. Baba H, et al.; Studies of anti-inflammatory effects of Rooibos tea in rats; NCBI
12. Priyanka Chatterjee, Sangita Chandra, and Sanjib Bhattacharya; Evaluation of anti-inflammatory effects of green tea and black tea: A comparative in vitro study; Journal of Advanced Pharmaceutical Technology
13. Eye: Tear Duct Massage;; Nationwide Children’s Hospital
14. Quick Home Remedies for Pink Eye; American Academy of Ophthalmology
15. Kristina Lindsley, Sueko Matsumura, and Esen K Akpek; Interventions for chronic blepharitis; The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews
16. Jing Qiao and Xiaoming Yan; Emerging treatment options for meibomian gland dysfunction; Clinical Ophthalmology

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