We all enjoy a good cry every now and then. Statistically, women tear up at least 47 times a year, while men tear up about seven times annually. But the exact reason we cry remains somewhat of a mystery. Here’s what is known about the science of sobbing.
First, the redness. The human eye needs oxygen and nutrients, which are provided by little blood vessels. Normally these are practically invisible, but when the vessels are dilated, more blood will flow through them, which causes the eye to turn red. When we cry, the lacrimal glands in our eyes generate an increased amount of fluid (tears). In order to produce these tears, the fluid is brought from the blood supply to the glands – which enlarges the vessels. The puffiness round the eyes occurs because tears contain lots of sodium (salt). Salt causes the body to retain water, which makes the skin around the eyes look puffy.
This does not explain, however, why your whole face tends to become a little bloated once you’ve turned on the waterworks. The reason for this is a little more complicated and rooted in the sympathetic nervous system, the part of our nervous system that is activated in stressful situations. When we experience danger, anger or fear, we experience a “fight or flight” response; our pupils dilate, our muscles tense up and our heart rate increases. Crying causes a similar reaction, it increases our blood flow and puts a strain on the facial muscles. The result, unfortunately, is a sick looking, miserable, and unmistakably puffy face.
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