The Best Way To Relieve Watery Eyes When You're Sick

When you're feeling under the weather, it's easy to get caught up in the barrage of symptoms (like coughs, sniffles, sneezes, and body aches) that accompany illnesses such as a cold, the flu, or COVID. However, along with these unpleasant experiences, another often overlooked yet bothersome symptom can make an unwelcome appearance: watery eyes. According to the Cleveland Clinic, watery eyes, also known by the medical term epiphora, are a typical bodily response to viral infections such as the common cold or flu.

While it may seem like a minor inconvenience, the constant stream of tears can quickly become irritating, especially when you're just not feeling well. Fortunately, if you are dealing with watery eyes while you're sick, there are a few things you can do to get some relief and feel better. Primarily, keeping your eyes clean, soothed, and lubricated is fundamental to promoting healing and reducing any discomfort you might be experiencing.

Relieving watery eyes with home remedies

If you're experiencing irritation, using a warm, damp washcloth to cleanse your eyelids can help remove debris and soothe your eyes. For some extra soothing relief, apply a warm, wet towel over your closed eyes for 5 to 10 minutes a few times a day. While it might seem counterintuitive, eye drops can help soothe and comfort your eyes by restoring moisture and lubrication. This is because your eyes could be watering due to irritation triggered by dryness. Also, getting enough rest allows the body to focus on fighting off infections and reducing symptoms like watery eyes. 

You can minimize your risk of developing watery eyes by avoiding irritants like smoke and dust. If you live in a dry environment, a humidifier can help add moisture to the air and keep your eyes from feeling irritated. Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend washing your hands frequently with soap and water and avoiding touching or rubbing your eyes to prevent the spread of germs and reduce the risk of eye infections.

Understanding the causes of watery eyes when you're sick

When you're sick, your body's immune system goes into overdrive to fight off the invading virus. This process can lead to inflammation of the mucous membranes lining your eyes (per the University of Melbourne). As a result, tear ducts can become clogged, which results in a buildup of tears in your eyes. The American Academy of Ophthalmology states that tear production is the body's natural way of lubricating, flushing out irritants, and protecting the eyes. However, excessive tearing can lead to discomfort and a feeling of having something in your eyes.

If you're experiencing watery eyes, allergies might also be the cause. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, allergies are triggered when our immune system overreacts to common allergens such as pollen, dust mites, or pet dander. Unlike viral infections, allergies usually don't come with other cold or flu symptoms such as aches, pains, and fever (per Mayo Clinic). Other factors like dry eyes, environmental irritants, and certain medications can also cause watery eyes.

Determining when to seek medical attention for watery eyes

Watery eyes are usually not a big deal and tend to go away on their own as your body recovers. But if you notice that you've been experiencing watery eyes for more than a week or two, or if they're severe or accompanied by other symptoms, it's a good idea to check in with your doctor (per Cleveland Clinic). There could be an underlying condition that needs attention. 

If you notice any changes in your vision, like double vision, blurry vision, or light sensitivity, you should seek medical attention right away. Changes in vision could be a sign of a more serious eye condition. If your eyes are hurting, red, or have a discharge, it's especially important to see a health care provider since these symptoms could be indicative of an eye infection like conjunctivitis, also known as pink eye. And if you're experiencing severe watery eyes along with other concerning symptoms like sinus pain, a fever, or difficulty breathing, don't hesitate to seek medical attention, as this could be a sign of a more severe illness like a respiratory or sinus infection (per Healthline).