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What are tears and why do we cry?

March 27, 2018

What are tears and why do we cry?

No-one can deny the strong emotional release or the feeling of lightness we experience after we cry, however there are other equally important physical reasons as to why our eyes produce tears. Let’s start by looking at where our tears develop and what exactly they are made from.  

Our eyeballs are also not the apparatus which enable us to turn on the waterworks. Tears are produced within a gland system called the lacrimal system. This ingenious piece of bio-engineering sits right next to your eyeball and is usually responsible for the boogers that develop in the corner of your eyes when you sleep.

Tear liquid is made up of three distinct layers:

  1. The lipid or oils layer:
    This is the outer layer responsible for holding the bulk of the tear liquid together and prevents it from spilling onto the cheek. Except in the case of emotional tears where there are smaller quantities of oils present.
  2. The biggest part of the tear is the aqueous layer:
    This layer contains various amounts of proteins and salts depending on the type of tears being released. The salts in your tears control the spread of bacterial elements in the eyes. However it is the different types of hormonal proteins found in your emotional tears which stimulate key social responses from your family or friends.
  3. Lastly the mucous layer:
    This layer is more between the tear and the eye system and allows for even distribution of tears across the cornea.

We have 3 different types of tears each with its own purpose:

  1. Basal tears which are ever-present on our eyes: These constant drops are what keep our eyes from drying out completely. They are the only natural source of lubrication for our eyes. This is a required function for the maintenance and functionality of the eye, aiding in our vision. Involuntary blinking spreads these tears across our eyes to allow even lubrication. An average human being produces between 150 - 300 grams of basal tears each day, the equivalent of a tin of soda!
  2. Secondly we have Reflex tears. These are our eye’s natural and automatic protection from triggers in our environment. Things like fire smoke, dust, wind and onions which can cause our eyes harm. These tears come in larger quantities than basal tears to quickly flush the system of damaging irritants.
  3. The final and most complex type of tears are Emotional tears. The emotional tear starts its journey in your brain’s endocrine system, this is where emotions are registered and managed. Emotional tears are known to have a higher hormone composition that their stable cousins and surprisingly these hormones also vary depending on the nature of your emotional state. Anything from the stress hormone (known as Adrenocorticotropic hormones) to pain reducing endocrines such as leucine-enkephalin can be found in emotional tears.

    Scientists have identified a lack of research in this department and have started various studies across the globe to understand the nature and purpose that emotional tears have on our well being. Most of these studies point to the idea that chemicals which build up in our bodies during times of elevated stress are released during emotional crying. This process is the body's way of ridding itself of these toxins and waste products.

Crying cannot be denied or avoided. You will physically feel lighter and brighter when you have cried your last tear. Whether we cry because we are happy, sad or stressed the act of crying plays a vital role in the way human beings cope with traumatic experiences.

Love You Eyes by understanding how they work.

By Tash Casey