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Blocked Tear Ducts - What Happens

Tear ducts can be fully or partially blocked. The blockage causes tears to back up inside the tear duct system and may cause the tears to overflow onto the face (epiphora). The blockage may also allow infection to develop in the tear ducts as bacteria and other substances collect in the eye.

Most blocked tear ducts are present at birth (congenital) and resolve on their own before a baby is 1 year old.1 A few babies may need probing to open the ducts. Probing done around age 1 usually works well, and most babies don't need it done again.2

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A blocked tear duct by itself usually does not permanently affect a baby's vision or increase the likelihood of having other eye problems.

Infections may develop many times in the affected eye. In rare cases, infection may spread to the eyelids and skin around the eye (periorbital cellulitis). Sometimes a pus-filled sac (dacryocystitis) also forms.

In adults, blocked tear ducts may be caused by infection, structural problems related to injury or surgery, or abnormal growths within the drainage system. Treatment for a blocked tear duct depends on the cause.

  • Infections usually clear up with antibiotics.
  • If structural changes or abnormal growths are causing the tear duct blockage, surgery may be needed to correct the problem.

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: November 08, 2011
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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