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There are three very basic types of tears:
- Crying or weeping (physic tears): The third category, generally referred to as crying or weeping, is increased lacrimation due to strong emotional stress, depression or physical pain. This practice is not restricted to negative emotions; many people have been known to cry when extremely happy or when they are laughing. In humans, emotional tears can be accompanied by reddening of the face and sobbing — cough-like, convulsive breathing, sometimes involving spasms of the whole upper body. Tears brought about by emotions have a different chemical make up than those for lubrication. The limbic system is involved in production of basic emotional drives, such as anger, fear, etc. The limbic system also has a degree of control over the autonomic system. This is more specifically the hypothalamus. It is the parasympathetic system that controls the lacrimal glands. Acetylcholine is the neurotransmitter specific to both the nicotinic and muscarinic receptors. It is when the receptors are activated that the lacrimal gland is stimulated to produce tears.
- Basal tears: In healthy mammalian eyes, the cornea is continually kept wet and nourished by basal tears. They lubricate the eye and help to keep it clear of dust. Tear fluid contains water, mucin, lipids, lysozyme, lactoferrin, lipocalin, lacritin, immunoglobulins, glucose, urea, sodium, and potassium. Some of the substances in lacrimal fluid fight against bacterial infection as a part of the immune system.
- Reflex tears: The second type of tears results from irritation to the eye by foreign particles, or substances such as onion vapors, tear gas or pepper spray. These reflex tears attempt to wash out irritants that may have come into contact with the eye.
Most mammals will produce tears in response to extreme pain or other stimuli, but crying as an emotional reaction is considered by many to be a uniquely human phenomenon, possibly due to humans' advanced self-awareness. Some studies suggest that elephants and gorillas may cry as well.
In nearly all cultures, crying is seen as a specific act associated with tears trickling down the cheeks and accompanied by characteristic sobbing sounds. Emotional triggers are most often anger and grief, but crying can also be triggered by sadness, joy, fear, humor, frustration, or other strongly-experienced emotions.
In many cultures, crying is associated with babies and children. Some cultures consider crying to be undignified and infantile, casting aspersion on those who cry publicly. In most cultures, it is more socially acceptable for women to cry in public than men.
An insincere display of grief or dishonest remorse is called crocodile tears, from the ancient anecdote that crocodiles would pretend to weep while luring or devouring their prey.
- The Incas referred to silver as the "tears of the moon".
In humans, the tear film coating the eye has three distinct layers, from the most outer surface:
- The lipid layer contains oils secreted by the meibomian glands. The outer-most layer of the tear film, it coats the aqueous layer to provide a hydrophobic barrier that retards evaporation and prevents tears spilling onto the cheek.
- The aqueous layer contains water and other substances such as proteins (e.g. tear lipocalin, lactoferrin, lysozyme and lacritin) secreted by the glands of Kraus and Wolfring and the lacrimal gland. The aqueous layer serves to promote spreading of the tear film, control of infectious agents and osmotic regulation.
- The mucous layer contains mucin secreted by the conjunctival goblet cells. The inner-most layer of the tear film, it coats the cornea to provide a hydrophilic layer that allows for even distribution of the tear film, as well as mucus covering of the cornea.
One lacrimal gland is located superiortemporally to each eye, behind the upper eyelid. The lacrimal glands secrete lacrimal fluid which flows through the main excretory ducts into the space between the eyeball and lids. When the eyes blink the lacrimal fluid is spread across the surface of the eye. Lacrimal fluid gathers in the lacrimal lake, and is drawn into the puncta by capillary action, then flows through the lacrimal canaliculi at the inner corner of the eyelids through the nasolacrimal duct, and finally into the nasal cavity. An excess of tears, as with strong emotion, can thus cause the nose to run.
- Skorucak A. "The Science of Tears." ScienceIQ.com. Accessed September 29, 2006.
- Masson, Jeffrey Moussaieff, McCarthy, Susan, When Elephants Weep, Delta 1996 isbn: 978-0385314282
- Re-evaluation Counseling site: "The Recovery Process"