Contributed by Christina Petrou, OD

Blocked Tear Duct

The tears which are produced to protect and moisturize the surface of our eyes normally drain though a pinpoint opening at the inside corner of the each eyelid. If the eyes’ natural drainage system is fully open, the tears will flow down through the nasolacrimal duct and into the nose. If this drainage system is blocked or too narrow then the tears will pool in the corner of the eye, run down the cheek, or form a dry layer of matter on the eyelashes.

What is causes a blocked tear duct?

It is very common for infants to have a partial or completely blocked tear duct until age 6 to 12 months because the eyes’ drainage system is not always fully developed at the time of birth. When an infant has a blocked nasolacrimal duct, it is called a nasolacrimal duct obstruction. An infant with a partially opened or narrow duct has what is called dacryostenosis.

What are the signs of a blocked tear duct?

Signs of dacryostenosis or nasolacrimal duct obstruction usually appear in the first weeks of life. Excessive watering of an infants eye may be noticed and dried tears or matter may be found on the infants eyelids or lashes after sleeping.

What is the treatment of a blocked tear duct?

Massage of the drainage area (lacrimal sac), topical antibiotic ointments for infection, and/or warm compresses may be recommended by your eye doctor as home treatments until the nasolacrimal duct opens.

Is surgery necessary for nasolacrimal duct obstruction?

Given the tendency of dacryostenosis and nasolacrimal duct obstruction to resolve naturally, many doctors will postpone surgical intervention until the age of one year. Studies show that 75% to 95% of infants with blocked tear ducts will have complete resolution by ages six to twelve months without the need of any surgical treatment.

Occasionally nasolacrimal duct obstruction persists beyond one year of age and surgical probing (usually under general anesthesia) of the duct by a pediatric ophthalmologist is indicated.

How is a blocked tear duct diagnosed?

A thorough examination by your infant’s eye doctor can determine if the excessive tearing is due to nasolacrimal duct obstruction, dacryostenosis, or other causes.

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