The tears you cry are less salty than normal tears, so water flows back into the saltier, eye tissues around the eye , causing these tissues to swell-puffy eyes! As the ancient proverb famously says, “eyes are the key to the soul,” meaning they can reveal a great deal about a person. However, one of the hardest “eye clues” to hide is the puffiness that invariably happens after a solid bout of crying.
You can wipe away the tears and blow your nose, but the puffy eyes after a tearful farewell, breakup or rom-com are very difficult to erase! The question is… why does crying make your eyes get so puffy?
Three different types of tears occur in your eyes: basal, reflex and emotional tears. Basal tears keep lubricating your eyes and protect your cornea against dirt and debris. Such tears are continuously secreted but not sufficient to cause excess, so most people aren’t aware they ‘re still tearing up a ton.
When a potential irritant — like smoke, dust, or fumes from cutting onions — threatens to damage your eyes, they produce reflex tears as an extra protective measure. Reflex tears contain additional antibodies to fight off bacteria, and they’re often produced in larger quantities to flush out the threat.
Emotional tears have a slightly different chemical composition than basal and reflex tears. They’ve been found to contain proteins and hormones not present in other types of tears, which might help bring the body back into balance after bursts of emotion.
All these tears come from the lacrimal gland located just above your eye. When the lacrimal gland produces just a few tears, it coats your eyes as you blink, and then drains through the puncta, the tiny holes in your eyelid corners, into your nose. Though, when life needs a full-on sob-fest, the lacrimal drainage system is exhausted.
When your eyes produce a lot of tears (usually emotional tears), your lacrimal system can’t keep up. Tears that usually evaporate or reabsorb into your nose instead spill out of your eyes before they even make it to the puncta. Those that do make it take an even more inconvenient route: You’re probably familiar with the snotty mess that comes with crying. Believe it or not, tears can actually come out of your nose if you’re crying hard enough.
That is when it starts swelling. Tears are more watery and less salty than the fluid that fills the cells — or tears are a less concentrated solution in seventh-grade science class terminology. By the osmosis cycle, water from your tears flows into the tissue around your eyes through a semipermeable membrane to balance the concentration of salt on either side. This causes your eyes to appear puffy, which is only aggravated when you rub them while you’re crying.
The dilation of blood vessels in and around your eyes can also contribute to swelling. If you’re producing a lot of tears, nearby blood vessels will dilate to increase blood flow to the eye area, which is necessary because — and this might be freaky — your tears are derived from your blood supply. Sure, tears are mostly made of water with a sprinkling of salt and proteins, but the idea of crying out a blood product could be hard to wrap your head around.
As of now, there’s no surefire way to prevent the puffiness associated with crying, but there are a few things you can try.
To tamp down swelling, splash cold water on your face, then wrap a bag of frozen peas in a washcloth (this will contour to the shape of your face better than an ice pack). Hold the bag over your face for 15 minutes.
Next, focus in on your puffy eyes: three to five minutes of steep green tea bags in cold water, squeeze out the excess water, then rest for 10 minutes over closed lids. The catechins of the tea’s antioxidant effect constricts the blood vessels under the skin, deflating the remaining puffiness.
Still red? Relax with cold cucumber or potato slices over your eyes. As with the tea bags, the cold will tighten blood vessels. Also, “cucumbers contain powerful antioxidants that reduce irritation, while potatoes contain a skin-lightening enzyme called catecholase.” Either will relieve swelling, but starting with the cucumber and following up five minutes later with the potato will depuff and brighten the eye area.
Any leftover redness or puffiness should subside while you sleep. But just in case, keep your head propped up on a firm pillow: The elevation will prevent excess fluid from pooling in your face. Those crying eyes will be gone by morning.
If you’re especially concerned about the telltale signs of puffy eyes, lay off the comfort food, as excess sodium can make the puffiness worse. But while we wait for a scientific puffiness-busting breakthrough, there’s a foolproof excuse to fall back on: blame it on allergies. Or maybe tell everybody not to make you cry!
Check out my related post: Have you used UHU Glue?