Tears are a natural and often misunderstood bodily function vital to our overall health and emotional well-being and are produced by specialized tear glands, also known as lacrimal glands, located above each eye’s outer corner.
These glands work tirelessly to keep our eyes moist and lubricated. Many people may not realize it, but our tear production is ongoing, with tears constantly forming and draining from our eyes.
The Composition of Tears
Tears are a complex mixture of water, electrolytes, enzymes, proteins, and other substances. The composition of tears can vary depending on the type of tear produced.
Basal Tears: These tears are continuously produced to keep the eye moist and protect it from drying out. Basal tears contain water, electrolytes, and proteins that help nourish the cornea and keep it clear.
Reflex Tears: Reflex tears are produced in response to irritants, such as onion fumes or foreign objects in the eye. These tears contain additional substances like antibodies and enzymes that help fight off potential infections and flush out the irritants.
Emotional Tears: Emotional tears are shed in response to intense emotions, such as sadness, joy, or frustration. These tears contain stress hormones, endorphins, and natural painkillers, providing a physical release for emotional tension.
Why Tears Are Salty
One of the distinguishing features of tears is their saltiness.
Tears taste salty due to the presence of electrolytes, like sodium and potassium, and interestingly the concentration of these electrolytes is similar to that found in our blood.
According to Dr. Michael Trimble, a behavioral neurologist, “The saltiness of tears can be attributed to the fact that tears are a filtrate of our blood plasma. As a result, they contain many of the same substances, including electrolytes, found in our bloodstream.”
Individual Variations in Tear Production
The tendency to tear up easily or less frequently varies among individuals – some people may tear up at the slightest emotional stimulus, while others rarely shed a tear. This difference can be attributed to various factors, like genetics, personality traits, and hormonal influences.
Dr. Karen Wu, a clinical psychologist, explains, “Individuals who tear up easily may have a heightened sensitivity to emotional stimuli. They may also possess higher empathy levels, which can make them more responsive to the emotional experiences of others.”
Hormonal changes, like women’s during pregnancy or menopause, can influence tear production. Hormones, such as prolactin, have been found to increase tear production, making individuals more prone to tearing up.
Tears are a remarkable bodily function that serves multiple purposes and is crucial in maintaining our ocular health and emotional well-being, whether they are produced to keep our eyes lubricated, defend against irritants, or express intense emotions.