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Tears are a clear liquid secreted by the lacrimal glands (tear gland) found in the eyes of all land mammals. Their functions include lubricating the eyes (basal tears), removing irritants (reflex tears), and aiding the immune system. Tears also occur as a part of the body's natural pain response. Humans are the only mammals known to produce tears as part of an emotional response, such as out of joy or grief. Tears have symbolic significance among humans (see crying). Emotional secretion of tears may serve a biological function by excreting stress-inducing hormones built up through times of emotional distress. Tears are made up of water, electrolytes, proteins, lipids, and mucins that form layers on the surface of eyes. The different types of tears—basal, reflex, and emotional—vary significantly in composition.

The lacrimal glands secrete lacrimal fluid, which flows through the main excretory ducts into the space between the eyeball and the lids. When the eyes blink, the lacrimal fluid is spread across the surface of the eye. Lacrimal fluid gathers in the lacrimal lake which is found in the medial part of the eye. The lacrimal papilla is an elevation in the inner side of the eyelid, at the edge of the lacrimal lake. The lacrimal canaliculi open into the papilla. The opening of each canaliculus is the lacrimal punctum. From the punctum, tears will enter the lacrimal sac, then on to the nasolacrimal duct, and finally into the nasal cavity. An excess of tears, as caused by strong emotion, can cause the nose to run. Quality of vision is affected by the stability of the tear film.

In nearly all human cultures, crying is associated with tears trickling down the cheeks and accompanied by characteristic sobbing sounds. Emotional triggers are most often sadness and grief, but crying can also be triggered by anger, happiness, fear, laughter or humor, frustration, remorse, or other strong, intense emotions. Crying is often associated with babies and children. Some cultures consider crying to be undignified and infantile, casting aspersions on those who cry publicly, except if it is due to the death of a close friend or relative. In most Western cultures, it is more socially acceptable for women and children to cry than men, reflecting masculine sex-role stereotypes. In some Latin regions, crying among men is more acceptable. There is evidence for an interpersonal function of crying as tears express a need for help and foster willingness to help in an observer.

Some modern psychotherapy movements such as Re-evaluation Counseling encourage crying as beneficial to health and mental well-being. An insincere display of grief or dishonest remorse is sometimes called crocodile tears in reference to an Ancient Greek anecdote that crocodiles would pretend to weep while luring or devouring their prey. In addition, "crocodile tears syndrome" is a colloquialism for Bogorad's syndrome, an uncommon consequence of recovery from Bell's palsy in which faulty regeneration of the facial nerve causes sufferers to shed tears while eating.

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