Crying underwater is possible, but tears don’t form in the same way as they do on land. When people cry on land, tears well up in the eyes and then overflow down the cheeks. Underwater, the pressure surrounds the eyes evenly, which prevents tears from welling up. However, emotions and reflexes that cause crying can still occur underwater.
Why do people cry?
Crying is a reflex triggered by strong emotions or irritation of the eyes. The lacrimal glands around the eyes produce tears when stimulated. Tears protect the eyes by lubricating them and flushing out dust or debris. Emotional tears contain extra proteins and hormones to reduce stress.
Common causes of crying include:
- Strong emotions – Sadness, grief, joy, anger, etc.
- Physical pain
- Eye irritation – Smoke, onions, bright light, etc.
- Stress or exhaustion
- Hormone changes
The experience of crying can provide emotional relief through the release of hormones like oxytocin and endorphins. Tears also remove stress hormones from the body. However, it’s the reflex of crying that helps more than the tears themselves.
What happens when you cry underwater?
Underwater, the pressure of the water prevents tears from overflowing the eyes and rolling down the cheeks. However, the reflex of crying can still be triggered:
- Emotional response – The brain can still elicit the reflex when a person feels strong emotions like grief, joy, or laughter.
- Eye irritation – Pool water containing chlorine can irritate eyes and stimulate tearing.
- Mask pressure – A tight diving mask suctioning the eyes can cause reflexive tearing.
Instead of overflowing tears, the lacrimal glands produce tears that mix with the water around the eyes. These tears get washed away as the water flows over the eye surface. The protective proteins and hormones still enter the tear film to coat the eyes.
Why don’t tears spill over underwater?
On land, tears well up in the eyes and spill over the eyelids because of gravity and the surface tension of the tear film. Underwater, the mechanism changes:
- Gravity – The buoyancy of water counteracts the effect of gravity on tears.
- Pressure – The surrounding water evenly presses on all surfaces of the eye.
- Surface tension – The tear film maintains surface tension, but water flows over the eye preventing spillover.
The pressure and flow of water effectively keep tears in the eye where they can still provide lubrication and protection. With less surface tension imbalance between the front and back of the eye, the tears do not well up enough to overflow.
Can you have visible tears underwater?
It is possible to have visible tears or crying effects underwater in certain cases:
- Swimming goggles – Tears can well up and spill over with goggles on since the eye is isolated from the surrounding water pressure.
- Diving mask clearing – Removing water from an open diving mask can allow tears to emerge.
- Emerging from water – Tears can spill over as soon as the face surfaces and loses the water’s counterpressure.
However, visible tears flowing down the face are unlikely when completely submerged without goggles. The reflex of crying still occurs but produces minimal external effect underwater.
Do tears sting more in chlorinated water?
Chlorinated pool water can irritate the eyes more than freshwater, making crying more likely in a pool. The chlorine binds with proteins in tear film and mucous membranes, which can sting and provoke reflexive tearing. However, the physical difference between pool and freshwater does not inherently make tears sting more in one versus the other. The chemical irritation of chlorine creates the stinging effect.
- Oxidizes proteins in tear film – Creates irritation
- Binds with mucous membranes – Triggers stinging, inflammation
- Can trigger reflex tearing – The body tries to flush out the irritant
- Less oxidation potential – Less protein irritation
- Lower osmolarity – Less dehydrating than tear film
- Less reflex tearing – Less chemical stimulation of the eyes
The chlorine itself increases the likelihood and intensity of crying underwater in a pool, while freshwater itself does not directly irritate eyes as much.
Can you get tears while scuba diving?
It is possible to experience reflex tearing while scuba diving due to equipment pressure, mask leaks, contaminated water, and emotions.
Causes of tears while scuba diving
- Tight mask suction on the eyes
- Mask water leaks getting in the eyes
- Chlorine in pool training environments
- Saltwater irritation
- Emotional response to awe or beauty
- Laughter from playing underwater
- Yawning from pressure changes
The ocean environment can stimulate reflex tears through irritation or strong emotions. However, visible tear flow will be minimal due to the underwater pressure. Tears form but merge with the surrounding water rather than spilling over.
Do goggles or a diving mask help you cry underwater?
Wearing swimming goggles or a diving mask allows visible tears to form underwater:
- Enclosed air space – Isolates the eyes from the surrounding water pressure
- Rigid lens – Holds back the water to maintain an air gap
- Elastic strap – Creates suction holding the goggles tight to the face
The mask or goggles act similarly to being in air, allowing tears to well up and spill over the brims. A half-filled or improperly sealed mask can also let tears emerge when clearing the mask.
Goggles allow tears by:
- Isolating eyes in an air pocket
- Letting tears well up and overflow
- Concentrating irritants like chlorine
Goggles make crying more likely underwater by protecting the eyes from the surrounding pressure and facilitating spillover of tears down the cheeks.
Do tears look different underwater?
Tears have a different appearance underwater compared to in air:
- Less overflow – Tears merge with the water around the eyes rather than spilling over.
- Less volume – Lower surface tension allows tears to spread into a thinner film.
- More dilution – Tears mix rapidly with the surrounding water.
Underwater, tears lack the visible waterworks of tear streaks down the cheeks. The tears remain in the eye area as a thin film diluted by the constant flow of water.
Reasons tears look different underwater
|Factor||Effect on tears|
|Pressure balance||Prevents overflow from eyes|
|Water flow||Dilutes and flushes tears|
|Lower surface tension||Thinner tear film|
|Lack of gravity||No downward spillover|
The underwater environment alters tear behavior, producing minimal visible tears that remain in the eye area.
Do pool chemicals make it easier to cry?
Pool chemicals like chlorine can irritate the eyes and trigger reflexive tearing, making crying more likely in a pool. However, the tear flow itself is less visible underwater.
Effects of chlorine on crying
- Oxidizes ocular proteins – Irritates eyes
- Stimulates lacrimal glands – Increased tear production
- Triggers reflex tearing – Body tries to flush out irritant
- Red, stinging eyes – Typical sign of chlorine exposure
While chlorine may elicit the reflex, the pressure of water still prevents overflow tears. The tears provide eye protection but lack dramatic outflow.
Does crying underwater provide emotional relief?
Even without visible tears, crying underwater can still provide emotional relief. The reflex triggers supportive hormonal changes:
- Oxytocin release – Calming effect
- Endorphins – Pain and stress relief
- Cortisol reduction – Lowers anxiety
The act of crying stimulates this helpful hormone activity whether tears are visually overflowing or not. Just eliciting the reflex brings emotional and physical benefits.
Crying underwater involves the same reflex but lacks the overflow tears people expect on land. The surrounding pressure prevents tear spillover while still allowing tear production to coat the eyes. Swimming goggles or masks isolate the eyes and allow visible tears. Nonetheless, crying underwater can bring emotional relief through supportive hormonal changes, even without the visual tears.