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TED Ed: The Three Types of Tears

I cry at everything. Whether I’m moved by Katniss’ bravery in Mocking Jay Part 1 (even though I knew everything that was going to happen as a result of reading the book) or because I got dust in my eye (I am very accident prone), I am often in tears. But did you know that the tears resulting from these two different circumstances are two completely different types of tears? In fact, the body produces three types of tears that are particular to three different categorical situations.

Basal Tears:

Our eyes are constantly producing basal tears that lubricate and protect our cornea from dirt and debris.

Reflex Tears:

We break out in reflex tears when harmful particles threaten our eyes. Reflex tears save the day by washing these harmful substances away.

Emotional Tears:

Emotional tears do more than simply lubricate our eyes. They occur when we are experiencing a heightened state of happiness or sadness and these emotional tears work to stabilize our mood.

Watch this five minute TED Ed video that illustrates different situations when one might experience the three different types of tears:

To learn more about the science of tears, try viewing different types of tears under a microscope and read about NPR‘s idea that crying is the result of evolution.

Have you ever experienced a time when you started crying uncontrollably? What prompted your tears and can you figure out the type of tears you were most likely shedding? Share with us in the comment section below something new that you learned about the special drops that lubricate and protect our eyes.



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Sarah Mills

Sarah Mills is a contributing writer for Learning Liftoff. She mentored and instructed kindergarten through high school-aged students throughout her college years and eventually went on to live and work in Yosemite National Park for a stint. Reading, writing, adventuring, and anything Harry Potter are some of Sarah’s favorite go-to activities.

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TED Ed: The Three Types of Tears