What Are Tears?

Many people ask Dallas LASIK surgeon Dr. Tylock, “What are tears?” In fact, it’s been a common question for hundreds of years. Charles Darwin had one of the first accurate theories on tears. He believed they served only three purposes: to lubricate the surface of the eye (avoiding eye dehydration), to keep the nostrils damp (thus enhanced smelling), and to wash particles of dust from the eye. He was partially correct, but today, scientists believe the purpose of tears is more complicated than that.

What are tears, anyway? They’re made of a salty fluid that contains protein, water, mucus, and oil. They’re released from the lacrimal gland, in the upper, outer region of your eye, and they fall into three categories.

  • Basal tears. Basal tears are the ones that are omnipresent in our eyes, and keep eyes from drying out. On average, we produce five to ten ounces of basal tears every day, and they drain through the nasal cavity.
  • Reflex Tears. These are the tears that occur in respond to irritants like smoke, onions, dust or wind. They’re very important, because they serve to keep the eyes clean, and fight infection.
  • Emotional Tears. When sadness is registered in the cerebrum, the endocrine system is triggered to release hormones to the ocular area, and tears form. Many experts believe that emotional crying serves to rid the body of toxic chemicals that build up during times of stress and anxiety.

Interestingly, researchers have found that each of these three types of tears has a different chemical balance. Basal tears are about 98% water, but emotional tears contain a host of chemicals, including hormones and endorphins. Sometimes crying really does make a person feel better!

Whatever the type of tear, keeping the eye hydrated is extremely important. Dehydration of the eyes is a serious problem that can lead to migraines, sore eyes, and blurred vision. Additionally, eyes that are not well lubricated are vulnerable to infection and disease. Many people suffer from dry eyes, and the medical profession is developing new solutions all the time. If you don’t produce enough tears, you might want to consult your physician for advice.