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Watery eyes in elderly people
What is it a sign of?

Watery eyes in elderly people can sometimes be a symptom of an underlying eye condition. Common causes include allergies, irritation, and dry eye. In some cases, watery eyes may also be a sign of more serious conditions such as glaucoma or cataracts.

Age often brings with it a variety of health problems, including vision changes. One commonly noticed symptom among older and elderly people is watery eyes or excessive tearing.

If you are experiencing watery eyes, it is important to see an eye doctor to rule out any potential underlying conditions. Treatment will vary depending on the cause of your watery eyes but may include artificial tears, antihistamines, or steroids. Surgery may also be necessary in some cases.

Watery eyes in elderly people are often nothing to worry about. However, if you are experiencing watery eyes along with other symptoms such as pain, vision changes, or redness, it is important to see an eye doctor to rule out any potential underlying conditions.

We’ll take a closer look at some of the causes of watery eyes in older people, and what can be done to help.

Do tears help to keep your eyes healthy?

Tears play an important part in maintaining our overall eye health.

They keep the eyes moist, prevent dryness, and protect them from irritants by washing away debris and dust particles. Tears also supply the eye with oxygen and nutrients and even help prevent infections.

Once the tears have served their purpose, they have drained away through tiny ducts in the corners of your eyes.

Droopy eyelids (ectropion)

The most common cause of watery eyes in the elderly is ectropion — a name given to the sagging of the lower eyelids that develops as we age.

In older adults, this can cause excessive eye-watering as the skin of the eyelids becomes lax and droops away from the eye, reducing the ability of the eyelids to drain tears away through the tear ducts, causing them to accumulate on the surface of the eye.

This is what commonly causes the watery, teary eyes you might notice in elderly friends or relatives.

Dry eye syndrome

Elderly people frequently experience dry eyes because the eyes naturally produce fewer tears as we age. Ironically, dry eye syndrome can actually cause the eyes to overwater.

When the tear glands do not produce enough moisture regularly, the eyes become dry and irritated. To remedy this, the tear glands overcompensate and produce a flood of tears, leading to watery eyes. Alongside this, dry eyes can also develop as a side effect of medications or as a symptom of co-existing eye conditions, like glaucoma.

Cataracts

Cataracts are commonly characterized by cloudy, misty vision. This condition can make the eyes more sensitive to light, which can lead to excessive tear production. They usually develop slowly over many years, so even if someone has not been diagnosed with cataracts, it’s important to notice the signs and have them seen by an optometrist for further tests. If the eyes have been watering because of the presence of a cataract, surgery to remove the cataract may help reduce the watering too. 

Meibomian gland dysfunction (MGD)

Meibomian gland dysfunction (MGD) is a group of disorders that affects the composition of the tear film. The most common cause of MGD is age, with some studies showing that it affects up to 78% of older people.1 Themeibomian glands are located on the edge of the eyelid and produce oil that prevents the tears from drying up too rapidly. Over time, changes to this oil or the glands that produce it can lead to excessive eye watering because the tears evaporate more quickly, so more tears have to be produced.

Eye infections and inflammation

Watery eyes in older people can also be the result of conjunctivitis or other eye infections that you become more prone to as you age. Infections can cause the eyelids and conjunctiva to swell, and might lead to blocked tear ducts which can prevent the tears from draining properly.

Medication causes

  1. Chemotherapy drugs
  2. Epinephrine
  3. Eyedrops, especially echothiophate iodide and pilocarpine

Common causes

  1. Allergies
  2. Blepharitis (eyelid inflammation)
  3. Blocked tear duct
  4. Common cold
  5. Corneal abrasion (scratch): First aid
  6. Corneal ulcer
  7. Dry eyes (decreased production of tears)
  8. Ectropion (outwardly turned eyelid)
  9. Entropion (inwardly turned eyelid)
  10. Foreign object in the eye: First aid
  11. Hay fever (allergic rhinitis)
  12. Ingrown eyelash (trichiasis)
  13. Keratitis (inflammation of the cornea)
  14. Pink eye (conjunctivitis)
  15. Stye (sty) (a red, painful lump near the edge of your eyelid)
  16. Tear duct infection
  17. Trachoma

Other causes

  1. Bell’s palsy
  2. Blow to the eye or other eye injury
  3. Burns
  4. Chemical splash in the eye: First aid
  5. Chronic sinusitis
  6. Granulomatosis with polyangiitis (Wegener’s granulomatosis)
  7. Inflammatory diseases
  8. Radiation therapy
  9. Rheumatoid arthritis (inflammatory joint disease)
  10. Sarcoidosis (collections of inflammatory cells in the body)
  11. Sjogren’s syndrome
  12. Stevens-Johnson syndrome
  13. Surgery of the eye or nose
  14. Tumors affecting the tear drainage system.

How can a home eye test help?

If you notice excessive eye watering in an older friend or relative, it’s important that they see an optometrist to have their eyes checked thoroughly. We understand that some older adults may find it difficult or be unable to attend eye tests in-store due to physical or mental disabilities, which is where our home visits service can help.

Our visiting opticians can perform a full eye test at home, and in care homes, to check the overall health of the eyes, and detect any underlying cause of overwatering. If a serious eye condition is found, we’ll be able to advise on the appropriate treatment options or refer you to a specialist for further testing.

In older adults, persistent watery eyes may occur as the aging skin of the eyelids sags away from the eyeball, allowing tears to accumulate and flow out.

Sometimes, excess tear production may cause watery eyes as well.

Allergies or viral infections (conjunctivitis), as well as any kind of inflammation, may cause watery eyes for a few days or so.

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Our team of specialist mobile opticians can come to those who can’t visit us in-store unaccompanied due to a physical or mental illness or disability.


In order to be eligible for a home visit, you or someone you know might:

  • have a condition that stops you from leaving your home unaccompanied due to poor health, or

  • be living with a diagnosed mental health condition that prevents you from leaving your home without the assistance of another person, or

  • be housebound or bedbound due to a physical disability


What do we mean by a physical or mental illness?


There are many conditions and reasons why someone might not able to leave their home unaccompanied. It’s best to talk to us about your situation so we can determine if you do meet the criteria, but to try and help make it a little clearer, here are a few examples. 


Conditions may include (but aren’t limited to):

  • Cognitive impairment
  • Dementia
  • Severe arthritis
  • A diagnosed mental illness
  • A condition that affects your mobility
  • A condition that affects your short term memory
  • An illness that requires constant medication (for example, oxygen)
  • A temporary medical reason prohibiting you from leaving your home (such as vertigo)
  • A temporary illness that prevents a person from leaving the home unaccompanied
  • A medical professional has advised you not to leave home without help

Whatever the reason is, if you or someone you know can’t leave the home without the assistance of another person, then get in touch to find out if you’re eligible to have a home eye test.


Who qualifies for a free home eye test?


Those who have a physical or mental illness which prevent you from leaving your home unaccompanied.

Those who are eligible for free NHS-funded eye tests by checking the criteria below.

The majority of our customers qualify for a free NHS-funded eye test. 


See if you do by checking if you meet at least one of the following criteria:

  • Aged 60 or over
  • Registered as partially sighted or blind
  • Diagnosed with diabetes or glaucoma
  • Considered to be at risk of glaucoma, as advised by an optician
  • Aged 40 or over and have a family member diagnosed with glaucoma, or have a family history of glaucoma
  • Receiving benefit*
  • Entitled to, or named on, a valid NHS tax credit exemption certificate
  • Named on a valid NHS HC2 certificate (full help). Those named on an NHS HC3 certificate (partial help) may also get help with the cost of a private eye test
  • Eligible for an NHS Complex Lens Voucher (your optician will advise on the entitlement)


*You’re also entitled if you or your partner (including civil partner) receive, or you’re under the age of 20 and the dependant of someone receiving: Income Support, Income-related Employment, and Support Allowance, Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, Pension Credit Guarantee Credit.

Our team of specialist mobile opticians can come to those who can’t visit us in store unaccompanied due to a physical or mental illness or disability.

In order to be eligible for a home visit, you or someone you know might:

  • have a condition that stops you from leaving your home unaccompanied due to poor health, or

  • be living with a diagnosed mental health condition that prevents you from leaving your home without the assistance of another person, or

  • be housebound or bedbound due to a physical disability

What do we mean by a physical or mental illness?

There are many conditions and reasons why someone might not able to leave their home unaccompanied. It’s best to talk to us about your situation so we can determine if you do meet the criteria, but to try and help make it a little clearer, here are a few examples. Conditions may include (but aren’t limited to):

  • Cognitive impairment
  • Dementia
  • Severe arthritis
  • A diagnosed mental illness
  • A condition that affects your mobility
  • A condition that affects your short term memory
  • An illness that requires constant medication (for example, oxygen)
  • A temporary medical reason prohibiting you from leaving your home (such as vertigo)
  • A temporary illness that prevents a person from leaving the home unaccompanied
  • A medical professional has advised you not to leave home without help

Whatever the reason is, if you or someone you know can’t leave the home without the assistance of another person, then get in touch to find out if you’re eligible to have a home eye test.

Who qualifies for a free home eye test?

Those who have a physical or mental illness which prevents you from leaving your home unaccompanied.

Those who are eligible for free NHS-funded eye test by checking the criteria below.

The majority of our customers qualify for a free NHS-funded eye test. See if you do by checking if you meet at least one of the following criteria:

  • Aged 60 or over
  • Registered as partially sighted or blind
  • Diagnosed with diabetes or glaucoma
  • Considered to be at risk of glaucoma, as advised by an optician
  • Aged 40 or over and have a family member diagnosed with glaucoma, or have a family history of glaucoma
  • Receiving benefit*
  • Entitled to, or named on, a valid NHS tax credit exemption certificate
  • Named on a valid NHS HC2 certificate (full help). Those named on an NHS HC3 certificate (partial help) may also get help with the cost of a private eye test
  • Eligible for an NHS Complex Lens Voucher (your optician will advise on the entitlement)

*You’re also entitled if you or your partner (including civil partner) receive, or you’re under the age of 20 and the dependant of someone receiving: Income Support, Income-related Employment and Support Allowance, Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, Pension Credit Guarantee Credit.

Who does not qualify for our home visit service?

No matter what condition you have, if you are physically able to leave your home on your own without needing help or assistance of another person, you will not qualify for a free NHS-funded home eye test.

We are also unable to visit patients in hospital.