Yawning is a normal human reflex, but scientists are still not sure why it happens. Some people find that their eyes water when they yawn. This may be due to pressure on the tear glands or eye fatigue.

Watery eyes can occur when yawning pulls on and stimulates the lacrimal glands, which produces tears. In some cases, the eyes may also be dry from fatigue, causing them to tear up.

Not everyone’s eyes tear up when they yawn. Even in people who do experience this sensation, it may only occur occasionally. Neither yawning nor watery eyes usually signal a medical problem. However, it is important to speak with a doctor if a person experiences eye pain or dryness, frequent uncontrolled yawning, or intense fatigue or sleeplessness.

Keep reading to learn more about the connection between yawning and watering eyes, including some other effects of yawning and watery eyes.

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The lacrimal glands are glands that secrete tears, helping keep the eyes moisturized. They sit just above the eyes, under the eyebrows.

When a person yawns, depending on how forcefully they yawn or how they stretch their other facial muscles, it may put pressure on the lacrimal glands. This can stimulate them to produce tears.

People also tend to yawn when they feel tired, for example, after staring all day at a computer screen. This fatigue may also cause eye fatigue. Fatigued eyes may feel dry, which can also stimulate them to produce tears, especially when yawning puts pressure on the lacrimal glands.

Many animals also yawn, and in babies, yawning begins even before they are born. Though almost everyone yawns, researchers have not developed a single conclusive answer to the question of why individuals yawn. Some theories suggest they occur for the following reasons:

  • To promote alertness: People tend to yawn more when they are tired, so yawning might be a reflex to help a person become more alert.
  • As a calming signal: Some research suggests that individuals yawn more before stressful events, such as athletic competitions. This may help boost feelings of calm. Some animals in stressful situations also yawn more frequently.
  • As social bonding: Yawns are contagious, so they might be a way for people to bond. A person is more likely to yawn when someone they are close to, such as a family member, yawns than when a stranger does it. Therefore, yawning might signal social relationships.
  • To clear the eustachian tubes: People tend to yawn more at higher altitudes when blockages of the eustachian tubes can cause painful pressure, suggesting that one role of yawning is to clear them.
  • To increase oxygen levels: Yawning usually involves taking a deep breath, so some scientists have suggested that yawning might help a person get more oxygen. However, one study found that breathing in more carbon dioxide did not increase yawning frequency, which indicates the purpose of yawning is not to get more oxygen.

Learn more about why we yawn.

Tearing up is not the only side effect of yawning. Some other common effects include:

  • Clearing the eustachian tubes: The eustachian tubes connect the middle ear to the throat. Yawning can open these tubes, helping relieve pressure and sometimes even reducing fluid from them. This may help with earaches or reduce pressure when a person is at high altitudes.
  • Contagion: Yawns are contagious — an individual is more likely to yawn when they see someone else yawn, even on video. This is a type of empathy. Some research suggests that yawns might be less contagious in people with conditions affecting empathy or social behavior.
  • Closing the eyes: Most individuals close their eyes when they yawn, if only for a brief second.
  • Stretching: Yawns can stretch the facial muscles and the jaw, which might relieve facial tension or pain. Some people also find that their jaws click or become uncomfortable when yawning. This can indicate a dysfunction of the temporomandibular joint (TMJ).

Learn more about TMJ disorders.

Sometimes the eyes water because they are too dry, and the body is attempting to moisturize them. Some potential causes of dry eye include:

  • eye surgery
  • certain medications, including antihistamines, over-the-counter pain relievers, hormone therapy, and antidepressants
  • skin conditions such as eczema and blepharitis
  • issues with the glands that lubricate the eyes
  • fatigue
  • exposure to wind, dry air, or chemical irritants such as cigarette smoke
  • allergies
  • spending extended times in front of computer screens

Some medical conditions may also cause watery eyes, including:

If a person has difficulties seeing, or they experience flashes of light, this could indicate a detached retina, which is a medical emergency requiring immediate treatment.

Learn more about detached retina.

Yawning is a normal part of daily life, especially when around other people who are also yawning. For some individuals, this also causes tearing up or watery eyes. However, this is not a medical condition and does not require treatment.

If teary eyes make a person feel self-conscious, ensuring the eyes are lubricated sufficiently may help, since dry eyes are more likely to tear. Slightly changing the way an individual yawns, tensing different muscles, or yawning in a different position, for example, may put less pressure on the lacrimal glands, reducing tearing up.

If a person experiences pain in their eyes, disturbances in vision after yawning, or their dry, teary eyes disrupt daily life, speak with a doctor to check there is no underlying cause.