Our eyes are covered with a complex layer of tears which is being continually replenished by glands around the eye. This tear film is very important as it lubricates the eye, helps fight infection and helps the eye receive a clear image of the world. The amount of tears produced decreases naturally as we age.

Many individuals, particularly seniors, are bothered by excessive or too much tearing (epiphora). This annoying condition, in which tears may continually run onto the cheek, is commonly caused by a blockage of the eye's drainage system.

This "nasolacrimal system" which routinely carries tears away, is much like the gutters of a home roof which can back up and overflow with rainwater when a "down spout" becomes plugged.

Another relatively common cause of excessive tearing is due to the loss of muscle tone in the lower eyelid. This is another typically age related problem. When the lower eyelid becomes too "lax" or "floppy" it moves away from the eyeball (ectropion) so that tears cannot reach the normal "drain pipe" located on the top edge of the lower lid. The result is that tears accumulate and flow up and over the eyelid onto the cheek. Returning to our "home roof" example it is the same as if the "down spout" has detached and pulled away from the roof's gutters. Another type of age-related lid change causes the lid to turn inward pressing the opening of the "drain" against the eyeball (entropion) which blocks the tears path.

A fourth possible cause of "too many tears" is irritation of sensitive portions of the eye causing a reflex overproduction of tears. Ironically, the cause of this particular "too much tears" problem may actually be due to the eye not having enough routine tear production and becoming "too dry." In such a "dry" condition the eye is more susceptible to irritation from the environment (wind, forced hot air heat or air conditioning) and responds by producing an overwhelming amount of tears.

All of these potentially annoying problems can be treated. The situation in which "dry eyes" are the real culprit can be managed in various ways from the use of artificial tears to the instillation of tiny plugs in the eye's "drain" to keep tears from being removed. In some cases your doctor may even recommend practical environmental changes at home or work such as air humidifiers.

If the system is actually "plugged up" it can cleared using a variety of techniques. If the lid has become too lax and the drain is out of position (ectropian or entropian) surgery can provide tone to the lid and restore adequate drainage while at the same time improving the eye's appearance. Since the eyelids are composed of very delicate tissue such surgery is best performed by a specialist in "oculoplastic" surgery.

It is important to mention that what is often described as "too much tearing" or "I feel like I'm looking through tears all the time" may actually be caused by other problems such as cataracts. In particular, "looking" through cataracts and seeing things appear hazy, is often described as "looking through water" and thought to be excess tearing interfering with vision.