Why tears matter

More than an emotion: why tears are important

Protection, reflex and emotion

04/29/19 (ams). Dissolved in tears, being moved to tears, laughing tears - even our language shows how diverse the meaning of "eye water" is. Tears provide our eyes with sufficient fluids, protect them from external stimuli such as wind, dust or smoke and they flow when great emotions are involved. Tears consist of proteins, salt, glucose, water and antibacterial substances such as lysozyme, which protect our eyes from infections. They are produced in three tear glands, which are located above the outer corner of the eye and permanently secrete tear fluid. The liquid is distributed by blinking the eye and then flows through the tear duct into the nasal cavity. The tear film is located between the eyeball and the lid. It serves as a lubricant, so to speak, and is made up of three layers. "There are different triggers to stimulate the lacrimal glands to produce tear fluid. There are the basal tears, which you wash over the cornea with every blink. They form a film of moisture that supplies the conjunctiva of the eye with nutrients and protects against dehydration and infection. The reflex tears come when the eye is irritated, for example by sharp wind, smoke or when peeling onions. The third type are tears that arise from strong feelings such as anger, sadness or joy, "says Thomas Ebel, doctor in the AOK Federal Association.


Ready-to-broadcast radio o-tones with Thomas Ebel, doctor in the AOK Federal Association

Women cry up to 64 times a year

While the protective function can be easily explained biologically, the researchers have not yet found any clear causes of emotional tears. According to the German Ophthalmological Society (DOG), the specialist society for ophthalmology, the only thing that is certain is that women cry up to 64 times a year, while men cry no more than 17 times. Incidentally, not from an early age. This difference only emerges over the years. Up to around the age of 13, girls and boys cry about equally often. Then women overtake men: women not only cry more often, but also longer. They let the tears roll for an average of six minutes, for men it is two to four minutes. In two-thirds of women, crying then turns into sobs, while it is only six percent of men. Various reasons are thought to be responsible for the gender-differentiated tear production. An important point is certainly the different socialization of the sexes: Boys are told from an early age that they should pull themselves together and not cry. But other reasons are also possible: It is assumed that the messenger substance prolactin, which is increasingly produced in girls during puberty, lowers the inhibition threshold to cry. There are also anatomical reasons. The tear duct is smaller in women than in men. That means: men first absorb the tear fluid and then drain it off through the nasal cavity. In women, they roll over the edge of the eyelids and over the cheeks much easier.

Reasons why someone breaks down in tears

The reasons why someone bursts into tears are also different: women are more likely to cry when they don't know what to do or when they feel inadequate. Sometimes even if they remember previous experiences. Men, on the other hand, tend to express compassion or when their own relationship has failed on the tear glands. It is true that tears can also be used manipulatively and women are said to be more likely to use this remedy than men. But so far there is no evidence for this thesis. There are various assumptions about the effects of crying - for example, that it is cleansing and is good to cry out properly. "However, studies show that people do not feel better after crying. It is also not physically relaxing," says Ebel. However, it is a clear communicative signal that often arouses empathy and compassion in others.


Additional Information:
German Ophthalmological Society (DOG)


To the ams guide 04/19

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