Underwater Tears: The Truth About Crying Beneath the Surface

Ever found yourself wondering if it’s possible to shed tears while submerged in water? It might seem like an odd question, but it’s one that sparks curiosity. After all, crying is a natural response for humans, but can this emotional outpouring occur underwater?

The answer isn’t as straightforward as you might think. It involves a bit of science, a dash of human biology, and a whole lot of fascinating facts. So, let’s dive in and explore this intriguing topic together.

Key Takeaways

  • Crying is a complex biological process that involves the lacrimal system, or tear system, which works differently underwater due to the external pressure affecting the body’s systems.
  • There are three types of tears: basal tears which lubricate the eyes, reflex tears that react to irritants, and emotional tears which contain higher levels of stress hormones and natural painkillers.
  • Underwater, the human body continues to produce these tears, including emotional tears. However, they might go unnoticed due to the surrounding water’s density and diffusing properties.
  • Although crying underwater is technically possible, the full function of emotional tears might not be realized to its full potential in aquatic conditions, as the water quickly disperses the tears, reducing their social signaling and therapeutic functions.
  • The function of tear ducts returns to normal upon resurfacing, showing the resilience and adaptability of the lacrimal system, demonstrating that while it is possible to cry underwater, the experience differs on land.

Exploring the Science behind Crying

Now that we’ve set the stage, let’s unravel the interesting science that surrounds the phenomenon of crying. As you may know, crying is a complex biological process that involves the lacrimal system or, more simply, the tear system.

The expressional tears that you shed during emotional distress are what we’re primarily focusing on. When your emotions surge, your brain triggers the lacrimal system. It’s here that the lacrimal gland makes your tears. These aren’t like the tears you produce to lubricate your eyes. They contain more proteins, hormones, and even a natural painkiller called leucine enkephalin.

Tear TypesComposition
Basal tearsWater, Oils, Mucin
Reflex tearsMore water than basal and emotional tears
Emotional tearsHigher levels of stress hormones, leucine enkephalin

However, while submerged underwater, the human body faces different circumstances. Firstly, when you are underwater, there is external water pressure on your body. This pressure affects your body’s systems, including your tear system.

Did you ever notice that when you’re underwater, you don’t readily blink as often as you would on land? That’s because the external water serves to lubricate your eyes. Since there’s less need for the lubricating basal tears, your lacrimal glands don’t work as much. This external pressure, combined with the decreased need for lubrication, impacts tear production.

Secondly, emotional distress can surface even underwater. But, whether this would also cause the release of emotional tears needs further exploration.

Now that we’ve done a deep dive into tear science let’s look at some interesting specificities of crying underwater and why this question poses such an intriguing paradox in the next part of our journey into ‘can you cry underwater’, which will focus primarily on the human body’s response underwater.

Understanding the Properties of Tears

Tears aren’t simply drops of water that seep from your eyes. They’re a complex mixture that primarily consists of water, oils, mucus, metabolites, and over 1,500 proteins. This unique composition has several functions including ocular health, vision clarity, and emotional release.

  • Basal tears are the ones that keep your eyes moist. Produced by the lacrimal glands, these ensure your eyes aren’t dry, providing a smooth, protective layer on the cornea.
  • On the other hand, reflex tears spring into action when there’s an irritant present. Ever chopped an onion, or found dust making its way into your eyes? It’s your body’s natural defense mechanism to get rid of intruders. These tears contain more water than the basal ones.
  • Lastly, we have emotional tears. Triggered by a range of emotions such as sadness, joy or frustration, these contain a higher level of stress hormones and natural painkillers called endorphins.

It’s interesting to note that the properties of these tears are distinct. The emotional tears, for instance, contain more protein-based hormones, particularly those associated with pain or stress responses. The protein content in emotional tears serves the purpose of easing pain and improving mood.

Upon closer inspection, crying frees the body of these hormones, serving as a natural coping mechanism during times of emotional distress. Many theories suggest that crying could have evolved as a social signal, exhibiting vulnerability or a need for comfort.

As you can see, there’s more to tears than meets the eye, no pun intended. The lacrimal system is an intricate, fascinating entity that not only helps maintain ocular health and facilitate vision, but also plays a significant role in regulating our emotions.

Can Tears Form Underwater?

When you dive into the proverbial deep end, you might wonder if it’s even possible to shed tears while submerged. While this might seem like a simple question, the answer involves a bit of science. An understanding of how tears function on dry land helps illuminate what happens when you try to cry underwater.

Tears, be they the basal kind that keep our eyes moist, the reflex tears that fight off irritants, or the emotional type that embody our feelings, all contain a mix of water, oil, mucus, proteins, and other metabolites. Uniquely, emotional tears even contain stress hormones and naturally occurring painkillers, making them a critical part of our body’s emotional regulation mechanisms.

Consider being underwater. For starters, your eyes would work in a similar way to when you’re not in water. Your eyes are designed to remain wet and will continue producing basal tears to maintain moisture. So, yes, tears can form underwater.

The tricky part, though, comes when we talk about crying, specifically emotional crying underwater. Given the environment’s pressure and the surrounding water’s mass, which is denser than air, tear production might go unnoticed. Also, the diffusing properties of water would quickly dissipate your tears, blending them into the surrounding aquatic environment. This diffusion also happens to be faster for smaller molecules like the stress hormones and natural painkillers found in emotional tears.

While you can technically produce tears underwater, whether you actually notice you’re crying is a different story.

In the broader context of human evolution crying has served as an important social signal to garner support during moments of vulnerability. On a physiological level, shedding emotional tears helps in the release of stress hormones. Underwater, the effectiveness of this social signal may be diminished due to the tears’ quick dispersion and the inability to visibly notice them. So while you might be releasing tears and thereby stress hormones, the full function of emotional tears might not be realized to its full potential in aquatic conditions.

With this information, you now understand the broader complexity of tears, from their creation to their function and even their role when submerged underwater.

How Does Water Affect the Tear Ducts?

In assessing the real effects of water on your tear ducts, it’s pivotal to understand the basics of how tears are formed. Your tear ducts are responsible for producing what’s known as basal tears. These tears serve a crucial purpose of moistening your eyes each time you blink, essentially providing the needed lubrication to keep your eyes healthy.

When you’re submerged in water however, some interesting dynamics start to occur. The change in environment introduces a whole new pressure system, and water’s own density comes into play. This shift, while not harmful to your eyes, can potentially skew your normal tear production process.

Underwater, the density of the water can act as a barrier, making it difficult for your eyes to expel excess tears. It’s like trying to push out moisture within an already moisture-dense space. The result is a temporary disruption to your tear flow and drainage. Also, the pressure from the underwater environment can compress the tear ducts, pushing back the tears into your eyes, thus thwarting the natural eyewash process.

What adds to this complexity is the fact that your eyes continue to produce tears even underwater. The tear composition, inclusive of vital stress hormones and painkillers, remains largely unaffected. Yet this unhampered production can’t always succeed in surpassing the pressure and density interplay. Therefore, your tears might not visibly propagate in water, reducing the emotional signaling and therapeutic functionality of tears.

On the bright side, once you surface, your tear trend resumes to its usual routine. Your eyes, true to their resilience, adjust back to their conventional tear maintenance cycle swiftly. This fascinating preservation further clarifies tear’s compelling role in emotional regulation, underlining its intricacy even in submerged conditions.

Debunking Myths: The Truth about Crying Underwater

When it comes to the subject of crying underwater, myths and misconceptions abound. You might’ve heard tales suggesting that crying is impossible underwater due to the high pressure and density. While it’s true that these aquatic factors can influence the functioning of your tear ducts, they don’t completely halt the tear production process.

Remember, your tear ducts are tireless workers, dedicated to maintaining hydration and cleanliness of your eyes. Even underwater, they ensure the release of tears, preserving their unique composition with stress hormones and natural painkillers. What’s different underwater is the way these tears behave and interact with the dense water environment.

Typically, your tears form a noticeable layer on your eye surface, which can roll down your cheeks under gravity’s effect. This is typically associated with emotional responses or foreign body irritation. But underwater, they simply can’t make that dramatic roll down. The water pressure and density interfere, rendering the tear flow less visible, even non-existent to the naked eye.

Wipe your mind clear of that pervasive image of tears trickling down underwater. Instead, visualize a thin film of tear fluid clinging stubbornly to your eye surface. That’s your body’s way of maintaining eye health, even when submerged.

Finally, let’s tackle the lingering question: Does crying underwater affect its emotional signaling and therapeutic functions? Well, since underwater tears lack the visibility and propagation of normal tears, their emotional signaling capability can be undermined. That tear-streaked face that often communicates emotional intensity to others is hard to achieve underwater. Yet, the production of emotional tears, complete with their cocktail of stress hormones and natural painkillers, continues unabated. This implies that even underwater, crying can still offer those therapeutic, self-soothing effects that you experience on land.

As for your tear ducts’ function resuming to normal upon resurfacing? Well, that just goes to show how remarkably resilient and capable your tear system truly is, swiftly adapting to changes in pressure and environment. So yes, it’s safe to say, you can indeed cry underwater. It’s just a little different from how you’re used to it on land.


So it’s clear that crying underwater isn’t just a possibility, it’s a testament to the resilience of our tear ducts and the incredible capabilities of tears. Despite the obstacles posed by water pressure and density, your tears continue to flow, carrying their load of stress hormones and painkillers. You might not see them rolling down your cheeks, but they’re there, doing their job. The therapeutic effects of crying aren’t lost underwater either. So the next time you’re submerged and feel the need to shed a tear, go right ahead. It’s a fascinating reminder of the adaptability of our bodies and the enduring power of tears.

Can you cry underwater?

Yes, you can produce tears and cry underwater. Despite challenges posed by water pressure and density, our tear ducts are capable of producing tears even in submerged conditions.

Can underwater tears maintain the same composition?

Underwater tears can maintain their usual composition of stress hormones and natural painkillers. The aquatic environment does not alter the chemical properties of tears.

Can cries underwater be seen visibly?

Tears produced underwater may not be visibly seen or able to roll down the cheeks due to the density and pressure of the water.

Do tears still have a therapeutic effect underwater?

Yes, despite being underwater, crying retains its therapeutic effects. Crying, whether on land or submerged, carries stress-relieving properties.

Are our tear ducts naturally adaptable to underwater conditions?

Our tear ducts do show an impressive resilience in adapting to underwater conditions, serving to maintain our eye health by continuing to produce tears.