What is a blocked tear duct?
Tears normally drain
from the eye through small tubes called tear ducts that stretch from the eye
into the nose. A blocked tear duct occurs when the duct that
tears to drain from the eyes is obstructed or fails to
open properly. If a tear duct remains blocked, the tear duct sac fills with
fluid and may become swollen and inflamed, and sometimes infected.
Blocked tear ducts occur in about 6 out of 100 newborns.1 A blocked tear duct that is present at birth is
called congenital nasolacrimal duct obstruction.
Blocked tear ducts are
less common in adults. An adult may get a blocked duct because of aging or an injury.
What causes a blocked tear duct?
In babies, the
most common cause of a blocked tear duct is the failure of the thin tissue at
the end of the tear duct to open normally.
Other less common
causes of blocked tear ducts in children include:
- Abnormal growth of
the nasal bone that puts pressure on a tear duct and closes it
- Closed or undeveloped openings in the corners of the eyes
(puncta) where tears drain into the tear ducts.
In adults, tear ducts may become blocked as a result of a
thickening of the tear duct lining, nasal or sinus problems, injuries to the
bone and tissues around the eyes (such as the cheekbones), infections, or
abnormal growths such as tumors.
What are the symptoms?
Usually, the first symptom
of a blocked tear duct is excessive tearing, ranging from a wet appearance of
the eye to tears running down the cheek. Babies who have blocked tear ducts
usually have symptoms within the first few days to the first few weeks after
birth. If infection occurs in the
eye's drainage system , you may see redness and swelling (inflammation) around the eye or nose. Also, yellow
mucus can build up in the corner of the eye, and the
eyelids may stick together. In severe cases, infection can spread to the
eyelids and the area around the eye.
The symptoms of a blocked
tear duct may get worse after an
upper respiratory infection, such as a cold or sinus
infection. Also, symptoms may be more noticeable after exposure to wind, cold,
How is a blocked tear duct diagnosed?
tear duct is diagnosed based on a medical history and a physical exam. The doctor may also use tests to measure the amount of tears or to see whether 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 is it treated?
Babies born with blocked tear
ducts usually do not need treatment. Most blocked ducts clear up on their own
by 1 year of age. But home treatment measures that keep the eye clean and help
drain the duct can help prevent infection.
Antibiotics usually are needed if signs of infection
appear, such as redness, swelling, or yellowish discharge.