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Blocked Tear Ducts - Topic Overview

What is a blocked tear duct?

Tears normally drain from the eye through small tubes called tear ducts camera.gif, which stretch from the eye into the nose. If a tear duct becomes blocked or fails to open, tears cannot drain from the eye properly. The duct may fill with fluid and become swollen, inflamed, and sometimes infected.

Blocked tear ducts happen most often in babies, though they may occur at any age. They affect about 6 out of 100 newborns.1

Most of the time, blocked tear ducts in babies clear up on their own during the baby's first year. They usually have no effect on the baby's vision or cause any lasting eye problems.

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.

Blocked tear ducts may run in families.

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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