What is the Lacrimal Apparatus?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 13 February 2020
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The lacrimal apparatus is a system of interconnected structures involved in the production and drainage of tears. It includes lacrimal glands used to make tears, structures at the corner of the eye for collection, and ducts used to conduct fluid from the eyes to the nose. A variety of medical disorders can involve the lacrimal apparatus and may cause health problems, as tears are very important for ocular health.

The primary function of tears is as a lubricant and cleaner for the eyes. Tear production is steady to make sure the surface of the eye is kept bathed in fluid, protecting it from dust, particles, and drying air. When something is in the eye, tear production increases to flush it out. Emotions can also provoke release of tears, sometimes in large amounts. If the tear glands stop producing or are blocked, patients can develop eye infections and may need to use artificial lubricants to keep their eyes comfortable.

Problems with the collection and drainage system can also arise, causing tears to spill out of the eye and down the face. People with seasonal allergies often experience this problem, developing watery eyes as a result of blockages in the tear ducts. The skin around the eyes may become irritated and infections can occur in the ducts as a result of blockage, causing pain, redness, and swelling.


The various components of the lacrimal apparatus work seamlessly together to meet the needs of the eyes. An error in one part of the process can create a cascading effect. Some options for treatment of disorders of the lacrimal apparatus can involve surgery, medications to address infections, and manual lubrication and cleaning of the eyes for people with tear underproduction problems. These treatments can necessitate input from eye doctors, as well as neurologists, as in some cases problems with the nerves are involved.

The efficient drainage of the lacrimal apparatus is sometimes interrupted when tear production increases, as it cannot keep up with the high volume of fluid. Often, tears will spill out of the eye and fluid can build up in the nose and throat, irritating mucus membranes and causing excessive mucus production, which is why people develop runny noses when they are crying. People can also experience a sense of dehydration after excessive tear production while the body works to restore the fluid lost from the eyes. Drinking fluids, warm or cold, can help to compensate for the loss.


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