Baby Eye Watering

We've done the research to find what causes baby eye watering and what you can do to treat it
Last updated: July 5, 2019

Your baby experiencing watery or sticky eyes is completely normal and more often than not will go away on its own with time. This guide has been designed to help put parents at ease of this fact, to help shed some light on why watery/sticky eyes happens in the first and some helpful advice on cases that may need medical attention.

Please note that this article is specifically about babies with this condition and should not be applied to toddlers, teenagers and adults.

What is a watery or sticky eye for babies?

It sounds daft to have a section about what exactly is a weeping eye but there are a couple of different types out there and what your baby might have may not be what another baby has. The most common description for a watery eye is the appearance that they are crying but without the crying. This can happen to either one or both eyes. 

The other description is a wet eyeball which comes with soreness, redness and potentially some upset – this could be a medical condition such as an eye infection and should be looked at but it is not common. 

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Baby-Sticky-Eyes
Let’s take a look at these three different kinds of watery baby eyes:

Underdeveloped tear duct

A watery eye, that looks like they are crying but the eyeball is not sore and it does not look like an eye infection is most commonly caused by an underdeveloped tear duct. Generally, this doesn’t bother the baby at all and it’s only the parents that worry as they can see it. From time to time, you will look at your baby and there is some more tears that have built up around the eye – if your baby has fallen asleep over a period of time without having their eye wiped the tears will slowly turn into sleep.

An underdeveloped tear duct will resolve itself in time and we recommend just keeping an eye on it and making sure to check that their eye(s) isn’t sore (as this then could be something else). If you gently wipe away the tears from time to time with a warm, damp cloth this will stop the development of baby gunky eyes. However, be careful to not wipe too frequently as this could lead to the skin surrounding the watery eye to become sore.

As we’ve said, baby’s having watery and sticky eyes because of one or both underdeveloped tear ducts is common and you should not worry. If the eye itself is healthy and white we don’t think anything should be done other than to keep the area clean. However, if your baby’s weeping eyes persist at 12 months or more then that’s when you might want to consider visiting your GP or local health professional just to make sure.

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Eye infection

An eye infection, sometimes called conjunctivitis or less commonly as pink eye, is a virus which causes soreness, redness and of course weeping eyes, gunk and clear discomfort. There is a clear distinction between a watery eye with and without an infection and that distinction is the redness and clear discomfort.

Some other symptoms of an eye infection for a baby is rubbing, yellow discharge and matted eyelashes and eyelids.

If your baby has watery eyes and some of these other symptoms then a trip to the GP will be needed. The treatment will probably just be some simple eye drops and perhaps some antibiotics but that is about it.

Blocked tear duct

One in five babies will have a tear duct that’s not fully opened, which is not that uncommon. A baby with one or two blocked tear ducts will find the tears flow out of the eye instead of the duct which causes watery eyes and streams down their cheeks. It can also lead to crustiness when it’s not been wiped over a prolonged period such as overnight or after a lengthy nap.

A blocked tear duct has more or less the same symptoms as an underdeveloped tear duct – watery eyes and sticky eyes when its dry. However, the biggest difference is an underdeveloped tear duct still produces tears from the corner of the eye whereas a blocked tear duct sees tears form a pool inside the eye.

A blocked tear duct doesn’t cause any discomfort the baby. How dod you clear a baby’s blocked tear duct? the tears stickiness should be wiped away with warm water and a clean cloth. We would also recommend a very gentle massage on the area to try and get the blockage to open naturally. 

Blocked tear ducts often resolve themselves as the baby gets older. However, if your baby’s tear duct is still blocked at 12 months then we would recommend seeking qualified medical advice. 

Is it conjunctivitis?

If your baby has watery or sticky eyes then your search online is to make sure that it isn’t anything serious. If you are wondering whether your baby has conjunctivitis or not then these are some symptoms in addition to watery eyes to look out for:

  • Red or pink eyeballs
  • Sore/red eyelids
  • Yellow pus/discharge
  • Rapid crusting, especially overnight or after a nap
  • Sudden sensitivity to light
  • Constant attempts to rub the eye

We would say that it is pretty obvious if your baby has conjunctivitis and if you do genuinely think your baby’s watery and sticky eyes are caused by this then please contact your health professional as soon as possible.

My baby has yellow discharge

If your baby has yellow discharge then it’s likely it could be an eye infection such as conjunctivitis. Check out our section on what else to look for and what to do next.

What does it mean if one eye is watering?

Only one eye watering for a baby is actually quite common, especially if the cause is an underdeveloped tear duct. The same could be said for the eye infection, too. However they are less common as conjunctivitis when it’s reached the stage of yellow discharge is actually contagious. 

Other baby condition articles

We’ve covered a few other articles relating to conditions baby’s can experienc, check them out:

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