Tears: How and Why do they Happen?

They represent the ultimate sadness, the funniest joke and extreme pain. Some people cry in movies, others seemingly never at all. However, regardless of what complex mix of emotions may trigger a tear to fall, something which is of constant debate, tears have a very simple basic function.

Tears are created by glands near the eye and their purpose is to clean and lubricate. Every time we blink, a fresh layer of this liquid is applied to the eye. This layer is made up from three separate layers. Nearest to the eye is a layer of mucous, next is a watery layer that helps wash away germs and foreign bodies. The final layer, which is on the outside of the eye, is oily. This insures that tears stay on the surface of the eye.

The tears themselves come from glands that are above the eye. These glands produce what is known as lachrymal fluid. Gravity helps draw the fluid down into the eye to refresh and clean it. Any excess fluid gathers in the tear ducts, where it will then drain away through tubes that run into the nasal cavity and down the throat. If too many tears are produced, for example when a person is crying, the tubes will over flow and tears will fall down the person’s face.

The production of tears is semi-automatic. The brain sends signals to clean the eye when germs or grit is on its surface and, as already mentioned, blinking routinely keeps the eye clean. Strong wind can lead to the eye creating more fluid to keep the eye moist. However, crying is a more complex reaction, and more than just the production of tears.

Strong emotion, whether it is grief, joy, anger, remorse or fear can act as a trigger for the glands to produce more fluid. In these cases, the gland will nearly always produce more than is necessary forcing an overflow. Why? It could be argued that it boils down to communication. If a person is feeling a very strong emotion, there will be a base reaction to want to show to others that they are feeling such emotions. Harking back to a time when languages were not developed, it could be argued that tears were a very effective way to communicate a strong emotion to another person. In some societies today, it is considered detrimental to be seen crying, for example, a man to cry in public reduces his masculinity or strength because he is seen to be letting down his guard. This argument could support the notion that crying is the expression of true feeling. If you see someone wearing dark glasses for instance, it could be that they’re trying to hide their true feelings. So, if you spot a friend in a pair of Ray Ban or Oakley sunglasses in the morning or on an overcast day, you know it’s likely they have something to hide!

Some people exploit this by faking tears, known as crocodile tears, thus appealing to another person’s compassion. Actors can summon tears on cue to mimic the true action. Whatever the reason, be it a baby that needs feeding, a person suffering loss or a group of friends crying with laughter, the act of crying stirs a raw human emotion opening an individual to another.