I found the question about tear gas very interesting. Shigeta says there that crying helps the cells of the eye to wash themselves clear of the toxic components in the tear gas.

  1. Does non-emotional tearing always work this way? Is tearing not caused by cells in the tear duct working as receptors? If not, why we have tear duct (the first in-eye part of it)?

  2. What is the cause of tear-production associated with crying during strong emotions? Is it due to hormones or nerve activation?

  • $\begingroup$ I slightly reworded your question for clarity. Please feel free to roll back. $\endgroup$
    – AliceD
    Jun 29 '15 at 1:09
  • $\begingroup$ Tear cleaning can be experienced when dust blows in your eyes. Your eyes water at that time. $\endgroup$
    – BATMAN
    Jun 29 '15 at 16:15

The regulation of tear production (lacrimation) involves reflexes initiated by sensory neurons in the cornea. Corneal pain receptors (nociceptors) and mechanoreceptors detect damaging stimuli and induce tearing to cleanse the ocular surface (and, hence, Shigeta is right as tear gas stimulates pain receptors). Corneal neurons sensitive to drying of the ocular surface also appear to increase tearing. These neurons also respond to cooling and hyperosmotic stimuli (Kurose & Meng, 2013). The tear duct is necessary to drain the tears away from the eye into the nasal cavity (Fig. 1).

Tear glands and tear ducts
Fig. 1. Tear glands and tear ducts. Source: Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research.

Strong emotional responses like crying can result in an overflow of tears (epiphora). Epiphora is mediated by the limbic system (the emotional center of the brain), especially the hypothalamus. Such strong parasympathetic stimulation is accompanied by other symptoms, like reddening of the face and convulsive breathing (University of Minnesota, Duluth).

- Kurose & Meng, J Neurophysiol (2013); 109(10): 2517-22


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