Seems like an odd question, right?

But have you ever actually thought about why we produce tears – and how those tears help to protect our eyes?  As it turns out, tears have multiple functions besides alerting the world when we’re sad.  Tears can remove dirt and debris from the eye, signal irritation, and even protect the cornea.

Add the fact that we produce about 15 to 30 gallons of tears per year, and it’s no wonder each tear drop plays an integral role in keeping our eyes safe and sound!

One of the most amazing facts about tears is that there are specific types of tears, with their own functions These types include:

  • Basal tears: These are the tears that keep your eyes lubricated, nourished, and happy. These tears provide a shield between the environment and the cornea; that’s why, when you suffer from dry eyes, your eyes get irritated and try to produce tears as quickly as possible. Speaking of which…
  • Reflex tears: These tears are immediately triggered whenever harmful irritants are introduced to the eyes. From smoke to dirt (and even onion fumes!), reflex tears are designed to immediately flush out the irritants in order to protect your eyes.  Additionally, reflex tears may contain antibodies to help fight off any bacteria introduced by the irritants.
  • Emotional tears: These tears are a lot more mysterious than the above tears, as there’s no real function ascribed to these tears. Some scientists believe that emotional tears contain additional hormones that are triggered by happiness, sadness, anger, and other emotions.

Tears have multiple layers, all of which are designed to provide as much lubrication to the eye as possible.

As we get older, our bodies tend to produce fewer tears.  This effect – combined with the changes associated with hormonal shifts – can lead to dry eye, in which the eye is constantly irritated by a lack of lubrication.  Contact lenses and prescription medications can address these issues, which can be diagnosed by an ophthalmologist.

Want to learn more about your tears’ amazing functions? Schedule an appointment with Dr. Jacqueline Griffiths at NewView Eye Center in Reston, Virginia.  Dr. Griffiths specializes in diagnosing and treating ocular issues associated with dry eye.

NewView Eye Center also serves the greater Washington, DC areas.