The lacrimal gland is a gland that produces one of the components in tears. It is a lobed gland located on the outer side of each eye. These glands produce the aqueous portion of tears, consisting of liquid, salts, proteins and lysozyme. Tears are produced constantly to protect and lubricate the eye, but when additional tears are required to clean substances from the eye or when crying, the lacrimal gland produces the majority of these tears.
Major functions of tears include bringing oxygen and other necessary nutrients to the cornea, carrying waste products away from the cornea, preventing the cornea from becoming infected and maintaining the proper levels of saline on the cornea to protect the eye and preserve vision. If the cornea becomes too dry or too wet, eyesight can be affected, causing near- or farsightedness. These changes usually are situational and temporary, but long-term malfunction of the lacrimal gland can lead to chronic conditions such as dry eye.
Other problems with the lacrimal glands include inflammation, infection, or tumors developing in the glands. Swelling in these glands can occur as a side effect of other problems such as Epstein-Barr syndrome or mumps, or it can occur because of bacterial or viral infection. It usually temporary is, but chronic lacrimal inflammation can be a symptom of Sjogren's syndrome, sarcoidosis or other serious conditions.
Lacrimal gland infection can lead to problems with the eyes because of reduction of tear production. Any swelling in the area of the eye should be brought to the attention of a doctor. Most infection in these glands can be treated with antibiotics and is a temporary condition, though it might be painful and inconvenient.
Another, rarer occurrence is a lacrimal gland tumor. These tumors can be benign or malignant, though a malignant tumor in this area is very rare. Tumors occur most commonly in older people, though they are found in teenage patients as well, at a slightly higher rate than in the general population. In some cases, the tumors are quite small, causing only a mild swelling in the outer eyelid. Other tumors cause severe drooping in the eyelid, sometimes even interfering with vision.
To prevent problems with the lacrimal gland, one should maintain proper eye hygiene and protect the eyes from foreign materials. A doctor or ophthalmologist should be consulted if there are any signs of swelling or discomfort along the outer edge of the eyelid. Using eyedrops can help keep the eye properly lubricated and moist in dry climates, and they help protect the eye and the lacrimal glands.