It’s common for people’s noses to run when they exercise (see my previous blog about this) but watery eyes is another niggle that many runners have to cope with. I’m not talking about the emotional tears that can flow when you’re left with your own thoughts for miles on end, no, I simply mean leaky eyes. Finding that tears are obscuring your vision or trickling down your face. Having to keep wiping your eyes and sometimes ending up with sore, red eyes as a result. Watery eyes can be really annoying when you’re trying to enjoy your run. Why do your eyes water when you run? How can you stop your eyes watering? Could watery eyes when you run be a sign of something serious?

Why do eyes water?

Tears are really important for good eye health. They lubricate the surface of the eye and stop it drying out. They have an antibacterial function to prevent infection and if eye damage happens, the tears help to heal it. Along with our eye lashes, they also prevent bits of dust, flies and other foreign bodies from getting into the eye.

Where do the tears come from?

Tears are made in the lacrimal glands (from the Latin work lacrima which means tear). These tiny glands are situated at the upper, outer part of the eye ball. The tears roll over the eye and drain away through tear ducts. You can see these tiny pin holes at the inner corner of your upper and lower lids. When the tear flow is heavy, the ducts can’t contain all the tears and they spill out of the eye.

Why do my eyes get so watery?

There are lots of situations where tear production will increase and many of these relate to running because running takes you outside into the elements. Whenever the eye begins to dry out it produces more tears to keep it lubricated and protected. Here are some situations where your eyes might water more:

  • Cold weather
  • Hot weather
  • Windy weather
  • Pollen exposure
  • Dusty air
  • Fumes or other air pollution
  • Bright light
  • A foreign body in your eye or a scratch on the surface of your eye.

Sometimes people who have dry eyes find their eyes water a lot. This sounds strange but it’s the eye’s way of trying to correct the dryness. This is particularly common in contact lens wearers.

If your eyes water all the time, not just when you’re exposed to the elements above, you may have a blocked tear duct. If you have other eye symptoms such as a discharge, a red eye, eye pain or problems with your vision then you should see a doctor. Eyes are very precious so don’t take any chances with them.

How can I stop my eyes watering when I run?

Watery eyes might not bother you but if you’re constantly having to wipe your eyes and finding it annoying, there are a few things you can do to make things easier. First you need to work out what the trigger is for your watery eyes and then try to avoid it.

Add protection. Sunglasses can help to keep pollen or dust out of the eyes – wrap around styles work best. They can also help mitigate watery eyes from bright sunlight and offer some protection from the wind. A cap with a brim can help too.

Treat conditions. Antihistamine eye drops can reduce the effect that pollen has on your eyes. You can buy these from your local pharmacy. If you suspect a blocked tear duct or infection then medical treatment is needed.

Reduce dryness. If you have dry eyes you can buy simple lubricating drops from your pharmacist. Use them regularly and before you run.

Consider your route. If fumes are the problem, avoid running past stationary traffic or choose a quieter time of day away from rush hours. Check pollen counts before you run if you struggle with watery eyes from hay fever and run when its lowest. Choose shaded runs if bright light makes your eyes water and sheltered routes to stay out of wind.

There are other tips like these in my book Run Well: Essential health questions and answers for runners. Published by Bloomsbury and available to buy now. 

Featured image: Photo by Marc Schulte from Pexels

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