What is blocked tear duct?

Blocked Tear Duct

Blocked tear duct in children: Overview

Tears normally drain from the eye through small tubes called tear ducts, which stretch from the eye into the nose. A blocked tear duct occurs when these tubes get blocked or don't open properly. This can cause a child's eye to be teary and produce a yellowish white substance. If a tear duct remains blocked, the tear duct sac fills with fluid and may become red and swollen. Sometimes it can get infected.

In most cases, babies born with a blocked tear duct don't need treatment. The duct tends to open up on its own by the time a child is 6 months old. In the meantime, you can take care of your child at home.

If the duct doesn't open, a procedure called probing can be used to open it. If the duct gets infected, your doctor will prescribe antibiotics.

Blocked tear duct

A blocked tear duct occurs when the opening (duct) that normally allows tears to drain from the eyes to the nose is obstructed or fails to open properly. If a tear duct remains partially or completely blocked, the tear duct sac fills with fluid, becomes swollen and inflamed, and sometimes gets infected.

Most babies with blocked tear ducts are born without an opening in the thin tissue (membrane) that covers the duct. In adults, several conditions can block the tear ducts, such as a sinus infection or a broken nose.

Usually no treatment is needed for a blocked tear duct in a baby. In time, the duct will open on its own. If the duct does not open, a procedure called probing can be used to open it.

In adults, the type of treatment for a blocked tear duct depends on the cause. A blockage caused by infection may be treated with antibiotics. A blockage caused by a problem with the size or shape of the tear duct may require surgery.

What are the symptoms of a blocked tear duct?

Symptoms often affect only one eye. They may include:

  • Heavy tearing. This may range from the eye looking wet to having tears run down the cheek.
  • A yellow or white buildup in the corner of the eye. The eyelids may stick together.
  • Redness and swelling around the eye or nose. This can be caused by infection in the eye's drainage system, such as dacryocystitis. In severe cases, infection can spread to the eyelids. A severe infection can cause fever, pain, increased redness and swelling, and mucus or pus in the eye.

Babies who have blocked tear ducts usually have symptoms within the first few days to the first few weeks after birth.

The symptoms of a blocked tear duct may get worse after an upper respiratory infection, such as a cold or sinus infection. Wind, cold, and sunlight also may make symptoms worse.

How is a blocked tear duct treated?

Most babies who have blocked tear ducts don't need treatment. A doctor can suggest ways to help prevent infection and other problems until the blockage goes away. If signs of infection develop, your baby may need antibiotics.

Sometimes a probing procedure may be done to open the duct if the duct doesn't clear on its own. Talk to your doctor to see if probing will help. In rare cases, babies with blocked tear ducts have a more severe problem that requires more complex surgery.

In adults who have blocked tear ducts, treatment depends on the cause of the blockage. If the duct is blocked because of a long-term infection, antibiotics may be used. Surgery may be needed for structural problems or abnormal growths. Probing usually isn't done for adults.

How is a blocked tear duct diagnosed?

A blocked tear duct is diagnosed based on a medical history and physical exam. The doctor may also use tests to measure the amount of tears or to see if tears are draining normally from the eyes. Other tests can help your doctor find out where the blockage is or how it was caused.

How can you care for your child who has a blocked tear duct?

Your doctor can show you how to care for your child's eye at home. For example, keep the eye clean. If the doctor suggests it, gently massage the area of the blockage. If the doctor prescribed antibiotics, give them exactly as directed.

What is a blocked tear duct?

Tears drain from the eye through small tubes called tear ducts. If a tear duct becomes blocked or fails to open, tears can't drain properly. The duct may fill with fluid and become red, swollen, and sometimes infected. Blocked tear ducts are most common in babies, but they may occur at any age.

What causes a blocked tear duct?

Causes of blocked tear ducts in children include:

  • Failure of the thin tissue at the end of the tear duct to open normally. This is the most common cause.
  • Infections.
  • Abnormal growth of the nasal bone that puts pressure on a tear duct and closes it off.
  • Closed or undeveloped openings in the corners of the eyes where tears drain into the tear ducts.

In adults, blocked tear ducts may be caused by an injury to the bones or tissues around the eyes or by another disorder, sometimes related to aging. For example, a blocked tear duct may result from a thickening of the tear duct lining, abnormal tissue or structures in the nose, or problems from surgery on or around the nose.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.