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What are tears? Tears are a clear liquid secreted by the lacrimal glands (tear gland) found in the eyes of all land mammals (except for goats and rabbits). 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. Tears are made up of three layers: lipid, aqueous, and mucous. Tears are composed of water, salts, antibodies, and lysozymes (antibacterial enzymes), though composition varies among different tear types. The composition of tears caused by emotion differs from that of tears as a reaction to irritants, such as onion fumes, dust, or allergy. Emotional tears contain higher concentrations of stress hormones such as adrenocorticotropic hormone and leucine enkephalin (a natural pain killer), which suggests that emotional tears play a biological role in balancing stress hormone levels.
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