Your eyes can give away your emotions—especially when you become overwhelmed and start to tear up. Whether you’re watching the latest Nicholas Sparks’ movie, cutting up an onion, walking into a dusty room, or just stressing out, this common body function could be serving a number of purposes. Take a closer look below at what could be causing you to break out a box of tissues the next time your eyes become wetter than usual.
Types of tears
There are many different types of tears that can be produced depending on the trigger for your crying. You actually always have tears in your eyes whose job is to keep the surface of your eye lubricated and protect you from airborne irritants. Known as basal tears, they are oilier in consistency than the watery tears that are produced when you become emotional or are faced with windy conditions.
When you cry because you are sad, this is a response of your endocrine system. The body releases hormones that tell you to cry, and thus the waterworks begin. What is interesting about emotional tears is their chemical composition. While they are mostly water, they do contain the protein prolactin as well as leucine-enkephalin, which are both known to reduce pain and boost your mood. This is why you tend to feel better—even if only for a moment—after you have a good cry.
Communication is one essential function of tears. In children, crying is much more than a response of stress or sadness. Before babies can talk, their crying may say “I’m hungry,” “I need a diaper change,” or “I just want to be held.”
As we get older, our bodies begin to use tears for more practical purposes. Reflex tears occur when there is a lot of dust in the air or a strong wind picks up outside. Nerves in the cornea sense potential irritants and alert the eyes to tear up so that bothersome dust is washed away. You also may have wondered why chopping onions draws tears to your eyes; it is due to an enzyme present in onions that converts to sulfenic acid when the onion is cut open.
Social response to crying
Crying not only causes your mood to change, but it can affect those around you as well. When you see a person crying, you may become empathetic and offer a hug or kind words to ease his or her pain.