Why Do My Baby's Eyes Always Look Watery?

by Team Scary Mommy
Originally Published: 
baby watery eye

It’s no big surprise that you get teary-eyed looking at your baby. How could you not get choked up over such sweetness in human form?! But you may be wondering why it always seems as though your baby is on the verge of crying. As you may have suspected, it isn’t for the same sappy reason your eyeballs keep leaking. Don’t freak out, though. Yes, we know; that’s easier said than done when it comes to being concerned about your precious babe. But seriously, you should know that eye discharge is very common in newborns and even toddlers.

Much how adults wake up with sleep in their eyes, the same thing happens to your little one. This can lead to rubbing, which will aggravate the eyes and cause watering. However, if your infant or toddler’s watery eyes seem excessive, then it doesn’t hurt to give your pediatrician a call.

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In most cases, watery eyes will turn out to be something totally manageable, like seasonal allergies or a blocked tear duct. And once you and your doctor have come up with a game plan, your baby will be back to normal in no time. In other cases, there may be a more serious cause for excessively watery eyes, but even then, it’s important not to stress out too much. Overall, this is a common ailment that’s usually relatively easy to treat.

What’s most important is that you’re paying attention to your baby’s eye health from an early age. So, even if you head to the doctor and those watery peepers turn out to be no cause for concern, you shouldn’t think of it as a wasted trip. Staying on top of changes in your baby’s eye health is a good way to catch vision issues early, while also ensuring your child isn’t dealing with any underlying conditions.

To put your mind at ease, ahead is some essential reading on what causes watery eyes, what the recommended treatment is, and when you should actually worry.

Check out more from our Baby & Toddler Development package to read more about thrush in babies, jaundice, baby hiccups, why babies look bow legged, toddler flat feet, and bone structure in babies.

What is infant watery eye?

Like most issues pertaining to baby’s health and well-being, infant watery eyes are also known by a more clinical name: epiphora. The word itself comes from the Greek epi meaning “upon” and pherein meaning “to bear or carry.” As for the meaning, epiphora is defined as a watering of the eyes due to excessive secretion of tears or to obstruction of the lacrimal passages.

What causes infant watery eyes?

If you notice your baby has watery eyes, several reasons could be to blame. Let’s go over the main offenders.

  • Blocked tear duct: Per the American Academy of Ophthalmology, nearly 20 percent of newborns experience a blocked tear duct. You may hear your baby’s pediatrician refer to this condition as dacryostenosis or nasolacrimal duct obstruction. So, here’s what happens. The tear gland, which is above the eye, produces tears to lubricate and protect the eye. The tear duct, which is below the eye, acts as a drainage system to clear away tears and debris. If the tear duct gets blocked, there’s nowhere for the tears and debris to go. So, they simply start to run out of the eye. Debris can also back up in the eye, leading to crusting eyelids and lashes (aka gunk).
  • Common cold: You know how your eyes won’t stop running when you have a cold? Unfortunately, your baby might suffer from the same annoyance occasionally. Because they haven’t yet built up immunity, infants are more susceptible to colds.
  • Allergies: Another possible culprit for your baby’s watery eyes? Allergens like dusk or pollen. Epiphora due to allergies might also be accompanied by a runny or itchy nose, sneezing, postnasal drip, and other common allergy responses.
  • Infection: Your first fear when you notice your baby’s eyes are watering might be that they have pink eye. And, well, it’s possible. Pink eye occurs when a virus, or sometimes bacteria gets in the eye. Irritation may also be the culprit.
  • Baby conjunctivitis: This is another infection your baby’s new eyes are likely to catch. It is similar to pink eye but a bit harsher. The lining and the inside of their eyelids become inflamed. And although it isn’t super contagious, it’s important to wash your hands after handling your baby’s infected eyes. Baby conjunctivitis can be caused by an allergic reaction — so before you freak out, know that it’s actually super common. If your little one has this infection, their eyes may be red, sore, itchy, and watery. Yellow or green discharge in the eyes is also a common symptom. This can cause their eyes to stick together and look a little puffy. Other signs include vision problems, mild fever, and lack of energy.

What causes toddler water eyes?

Toddlers are just as prone to getting watery eyes as newborns, and it’s often for the same reasons. Just like an infant, a toddler with excessively watery eyes may be dealing with a blocked tear duct, allergies, an infection, or conjunctivitis. In many cases, the root cause will turn out to be a cold.

Remember, your toddler is even more prone to touching and rubbing their eyes now than they were when they were infants. Additionally, they’re around more people in daycare, school, and at the park. All of this means they come into contact with more germs and end up getting more colds than they did before they learned how to walk and talk.

If you think your toddler is dealing with excessively watery eyes, be on the lookout for the following symptoms:

  • Complaining about eye pain or a feeling of something in their eyes.
  • Excessive eye rubbing.
  • Reluctance to open their eyes all the way.
  • Swelling of the eye or face.

If you observe any of those symptoms in your toddler, it might be a good idea to set up a doctor’s appointment to see what’s going on.

How can you tell if it’s baby conjunctivitis or blocked tear ducts?

Figuring out whether your baby is dealing with a case of conjunctivitis or blocked tear ducts is fairly straightforward. While both conditions can cause discharge, watery eyes, and matting, a blocked tear duct won’t lead to excessive redness in their eyes. On the other hand, conjunctivitis’ tell-tell sign is the pinkish color that tints your baby’s eye or eyes due to an infection.

Remember, conjunctivitis can be contagious. So, if you suspect your baby has come down with a case, it’s best to keep them away from other kids and to wash your hands thoroughly after cleaning their eyes. Overall, it’s a fairly common condition that’s easy to treat, though. Just call your pediatrician for advice on what to do next if you notice your baby’s eyes looking red and swollen.

When should you call the doctor?

Again, it’s OK and encouraged to ask your baby’s pediatrician whenever you have a concern about your little one’s health. It’s better to be safe than sorry, and that’s what the doctor is there for. In regards to infant watery eyes, it’s a good idea to call the doctor if you notice any redness, swelling, odd-colored discharge, or tenderness, which could be a sign of infection or a more serious condition.

How to treat infant watery eyes?

If your baby’s watery eyes are due to a blocked tear duct, they’ll usually resolve on their own within a few months. So, you won’t need to do anything other than love your baby through it. Still, your doctor may recommend applying a warm compress to baby’s tear ducts and gently massaging them a few times a day.

If your pediatrician does recommend this course of action, they will likely demonstrate how to carefully massage your little one’s tear ducts to help clear them of any gunk or other debris. Generally, you’ll want to use a clean washcloth or a cotton ball, and if both tear ducts are clogged, remember to use a fresh cloth or cotton ball for each eye. You should begin to see results within a few weeks to six months, although frequently, your baby’s condition will improve even sooner.

Epiphora due to allergies or infection, though, may require medical attention. Your child’s pediatrician may recommend a saline bath to clear out buildup. They may also prescribe an antibiotic. Very rarely, a procedure called nasolacrimal duct probing might be mentioned. This involves a doctor placing a small probe through your baby’s tear duct into their nose to widen the passage.

Can you minimize the chance of your baby having watery eyes?

While there’s no guaranteed way to prevent infant watery eyes, there are a few things that may help stem it:

  • Good hygiene: Babies instinctively reach for and rub their eyes. So, it’s important to keep their hands clean, as well as anything they might bring towards their face (like toys).
  • Practical caution: If you know someone within close proximity to your baby has a cold, ask them not to touch your little one for the time being. Alternatively, you could ask them to wash their hands thoroughly prior to any contact.
  • Monitoring: Let’s be real, you’re watching your newborn like a hawk already, right? Well, keep a close, ahem, eye out for any signs of a blocked tear duct. If you suspect it’s possible, schedule a visit with the pediatrician.
  • Allergy care: Maybe your sweet little one has already been diagnosed with allergies, thus explaining their eyes watering on occasion. If this is the case, be proactive about avoiding baby’s allergens, and asking friends and family to be mindful of them too.

How can I strengthen my baby’s eyes?

If you’re worried about your baby’s eye health, there are many ways to maintain your sugar plum’s pupils.

  • Make sure you eat healthy during your pregnancy and you pass the torch on to your baby after you give birth. Stick to fruits, nuts, veggies, and fish. However, during your pregnancy, it’s best to avoid seafood. All of these foods are full of vitamin C, vitamin E, zinc, lutein, and omega-3 fatty acids, which work wonders for the eyes.
  • Check your baby’s eyes regularly for haziness in their pupils.
  • Have your child’s eyes checked regularly.
  • If it’s a sunny day, try to keep your baby out of direct sunlight, especially if they have light-colored eyes.
  • To help develop your baby’s eyesight, move around the room when you speak to them. It will force them to follow you with their eyes.
  • Putting a mobile above their cribs is also a great way to strengthen their eyesight.

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