Why do eyes water with a cold?

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The Anatomy of Tears

Before we get into the specifics of why your eyes water with a cold, it’s important to understand the anatomy of tears. Contrary to popular belief, tears aren’t just salty water that flows out of your eyes when you’re sad or emotional. In fact, tears are a complex mixture of water, mucus, oils, and antibodies that are essential for maintaining the health of your eyes.

Why do eyes water with a cold?

Tears serve several important functions, including lubricating the eyes, flushing out foreign objects and debris, and preventing infections. There are three different types of tears: basal tears, reflex tears, and emotional tears. Basal tears are constantly produced by the lacrimal glands to keep the eyes moist and lubricated, while reflex tears are produced in response to irritants such as dust, smoke, or onion fumes. Emotional tears, on the other hand, are triggered by strong emotions such as joy, sadness, or anger.

The Connection Between Colds and Watery Eyes

Now that we have a basic understanding of the anatomy of tears, let’s explore why your eyes water with a cold. When you catch a cold, your body’s immune system goes into overdrive to fight off the infection. This immune response can cause inflammation in various parts of your body, including your eyes.

One of the ways your eyes respond to inflammation is by producing more tears. This is because tears contain antibodies and other immune system molecules that help to fight off infections. By producing more tears, your eyes are able to flush out any bacteria or viruses that may be present, helping to prevent the spread of the infection.

In addition to the immune response, colds can also cause congestion in your nasal passages. When your nose is congested, you may breathe through your mouth more often, which can cause your eyes to become dry and irritated. In response to this irritation, your eyes may produce more tears to lubricate and protect the delicate tissues in and around the eyes.

Other Factors That Can Cause Watery Eyes

While colds are a common cause of watery eyes, they’re not the only factor that can contribute to this issue. Here are a few other factors that can cause watery eyes:

Allergies: If you have allergies, your body’s immune system may overreact to harmless substances such as pollen, pet dander, or dust mites. This immune response can cause inflammation in your eyes, leading to watery eyes, itching, and redness.

Dry eye syndrome: Dry eye syndrome occurs when your eyes don’t produce enough tears, or when the tears evaporate too quickly. This can cause your eyes to become dry, red, and irritated, and may also lead to watery eyes as your eyes try to compensate for the lack of moisture.

Eyestrain: If you spend a lot of time looking at a computer screen or other digital devices, you may experience eyestrain. This can cause your eyes to become dry and irritated, leading to watery eyes.


In conclusion, watery eyes with a cold are caused by the immune response to fight off the infection and the congestion that comes with it. However, it’s important to note that other factors can contribute to this issue. Understanding the anatomy of tears and the factors that can cause watery eyes can help you better manage this common issue.

Why do eyes water with a cold?
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