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THE WATERING EYE. Brigita Drnovšek-Olup Eye Hospital, University Medical Centre Ljubljana, Slovenia. Introduction. Watering eye is an extremely common ocular symptom. Watering eye lacrimation epiphora

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the watering eye


Brigita Drnovšek-Olup

Eye Hospital, University Medical Centre Ljubljana, Slovenia

  • Watering eye is an extremely common ocular symptom.

Watering eye


Failure to differentiate these two conditions can result in unwarranted and improper medication of a large number of patients.

the watering eye1
  • Lacrimation is watering that occurs secondary to excessive tear production in the presence of a normal excretory system.
  • Epiphora is watering that occurs secondary to abnormal excretory system in the presence of normal tear secretion.

Lacrimation is watering that occurs secondary to excessive tear production in the presence of a normal excretory system.

secretory system
Secretory system
  • Lacrimal gland: orbital part (2/3)

palpebral part (1/3)

  • Accessory lacrimal glands: Krause


secretory system1
Secretory system
  • Normal tear secretion is necessary to keep the ocular surface moist. The tears form a thin film, which integrity is crucial for normal corneal physiology.
  • Tear composition and secretion - three layers:
      • the mucin layer: secreted by the goblet cells; alters the surface tension of the tears and increases its adherence to the cornea.
      • the aqueous layer: secreted by the accessory lacrimal glands (Krause and Wolfring) orin the presence of ocular irritation the main lacrimal gland.
      • the oily layer: secreted by the Meibomian glands; prevents tear film evaporation.
a new tear film model showing additional layers and interfaces a six layer model
A new tear film model showing additional layers and interfaces (a six-layer model):

Previous reports had vastly underestimated the thickness

of mucus.

secretory system2
Secretory system
  • Pathology of the tear film:
    • deficiency of the aqueous layer - keratoconjunctivitis sicca.
    • deficiency of mucous or meibomian secretions - instability of the tear film (compensatory excessive aqueous secretion -paradoxical watering).
lacrimal drainage system physiology
Lacrimal drainage system - physiology
  • The puncta should be open and in firm apposition to the globe.
  • The tears drain into the puncta from the tear meniscii along the lid margins by capillary action and also due to the negative pressure created by the sac.
  • As the sac is surrounded by the orbicularis muscle, normal blinking movements result in negative pressure in the sac when the lids are open and positive pressure when, the lids are closed.
lacrimal drainage system physiology lacrimal pump
Lacrimal drainage system - physiology -lacrimal pump
  • The valves at the common canaliculus (Rosen Muller) and nasolacrimal duct opening into the nose (Hassner) ensure unidirectional flow of tears into the nose. Paralysis of the orbicularis can result in epiphora due to lacrimal pump failure.
causes of watering eye
Causes of watering eye

Lacrimation (hypersecretion):

  • Secondary to ocular inflammation or surface disease.
  • Emotional distress
  • Irritation of the eyes ( smoke, dust, foreign bodies, injury)
causes of watering eye1
Causes of watering eye

Epiphora:(defective drainage): compromise of the lacrimal drainage system:

  • a) malposition of the lacrimal puncta (e.g. ectropion)
  • b) obstruction (anywhere along the lacrimal drainage system, from puncta to the nasolacrimal duct)
  • c) lacrimal pump failure (lower lid laxity or weakness of the orbicularis muscle)
aquired obstruction
Aquired obstruction

Primary punctal stenosis (chr. blepharitis, idiopathic primary stenosis, herpetic infection of eyelid, irradiation, cicatrizing conjunctivitis and trachoma, cytotoxic drugs, porphyria cutanea tarda, acrodermatitis enteropathica)

Secondary punctal stenosis (punctal eversion)

Canalicular obstruction (cong., trauma, herpetic infection, drugs and irradiation, chr. dacryocystitis)

Nasolacrimal duct obstruction (idiopathic stenosis, trauma, previous surgery, granulomatous disease, tumours)


congenital obstruction
Congenital obstruction

Nasolacrimal duct obstruction

Congenital dacryocele

evaluation of an adult patient with watering eye
Evaluation of an adult patient with watering eye

Pseudoepiphora: epiblepharon, distichiasis, trichiasis, glaucoma…The lacus is dry and syringing is patent.

Lacrimation secondary to corneal disorders or conjunctivitis is obvious due to associated symptomatology or on examination. Two conditions which can be mistaken for true epiphora are dry eye syndrome and blepharitis.

Dry eye:Dry eye secondary to deficiency of mucous or meibomian secretions can have paradoxical watering. A diagnosis is usually based on reduced lower tear meniscus, and increased debris in tear film on slit-lamp examination. Increased tear break-up time (BUT) and reduced Schirmer's strip wetting corroborate the diagnosis.

evaluation of an adult patient with watering eye1
Evaluation of an adult patient with watering eye
  • Blepharitis: thickened, hyperaemic lid margins with scales deposited on the lashes, blocked meibomian openings, excessive abnormal meibomian secretions, and frothy discharge on the lid margins.
  • True epiphora: secondary to either an anatomical obstruction or functional deficiency like ectropion or lacrimal pump failure – differentiated on the basis of syringing.
  • External examination:
    • The puncta and eyelids (ectropion, punctal obstruction – eyelash, conjunctivochalasis, eversion of punctum by large caruncle, canaliculitis, canturion syndrome – prominent nasal bridge)
    • The lacrimal sac (palpation)
evaluation tests
Evaluation tests

Fluorescein disappearance test (no dye after 3 mins)

Probing and irrigation (hard stop or soft stop)

Jones dye testing (the primary and secondary test)

Contrast dacryocystography

Nuclear lacrimal scintigraphy

  • Lacrimation - treatment usually medical.
  • Dry eye: treatment consists of topical lubricants.
  • Blepharitis:treatment consists of lid scrubs, oral tetracycline and topical lubricants.

Ectropion or entropion - lid repair.

Primary punctal stenosis – dilatation with Nettleship dilatator, punctoplasty.

Secondary punctal stenosis – Ziegler cautery, medial conjunctivoplasty, Lower lid tightening.

Canalicular obstruction – partial: intubation; total: canaliculodacryocystorhinostomy and intubation or CDCR and the insertion of Lester Jones tube.

  • Nasolacrimal duct obstruction

infants: massage, probing;

adults: DCR, TCL-DCR, intubation, stents, balloon dilatation.

  • Dacryolithiasis – DCR
  • Congenital dacryocele - probing
lacrimal surgery
Lacrimal surgery

Conventional dacryocystorhinostomy

Lester Jones tube

Endonasal surgery

Endocanalicular laser DCR

Balloon dacryocystoplasty


1. Insertion of light probe into lacrymal sac.

2. Transillumination of nasal bone.

3. Cauterization of mucosa. 4.Osteotomy and opening of lacrymal sac


5. Insertion & fixation of stents.

6. Haemostasis & tamonade.

7. Osteotomy with stents at end.

8. Open osteotomy 1 mo post-op.

  • The proper diagnosis and treatment of watering eye is important due to its impact on the outcome of many other ocular procedures.
  • Undiagnosed and untreated watering eye substantially decreases the patients' quality of life, visual acuity and impairs social contacts.