Last reviewed by Dr. Raj MD on January 12th, 2022.
What is a Blocked Tear Duct?
This is when the path which carries your tears from the eye surface into your nose is completely or partially blocked. It is a common problem in many newborn babies and there is no way to drain the tears the fluid will accumulate in their tear sacs. This could lead to swelling in their eyes and inflammation. It happens in approximately six out of one hundred newborn babies. Blocked tear ducts are not as common in adult but can happen because of an injury or aging. Tears are important because they help to lubricate your eyes. Your eyelids are what help to move the tears across your eyes. The medical terms for this medical condition are nasolacrimal duct or dacryostenosis.
The most noticeable symptom is an increase in tearing. This excessive tearing can overflow or just give you a wet appearance on your cheeks or face. If an infant has blocked tear ducts, this excessive tearing will become noticeable during the first two to three weeks after their birth. The tears may also appear to be thicker than normal tears and may dry and appear crusty on your face. If the eyelids become stuck together or you notice pus in the eyes there could be an inflammation called conjunctivitis, commonly known as pink-eye.
Other symptoms can include:
- Eye infections that are recurrent.
- Swelling near the inside corner of your eye that is painful.
- Blurred vision
- Pus or mucus discharge from the surface of your eye or the lids.
- Possible swelling around your nose and eyes might turn red.
The symptoms may get worse if you have had an upper respiratory infection like a sinus infection or cold. A person may notice the symptoms more after being exposed to sunlight, wind, and cold.
When you make tears they drain into your tear duct through a tiny opening called the nasolacrimal duct in the corner of the eye. There are many reasons that a person may have blocked tear ducts, which include:
- In a newborn, at the time of birth at the end of their tear duct the thin tissue is not open, called congenital blockage.
- In younger children the cause could be an extra growth of their nasal bone which could put pressure on your tear duct and eventually it will close.
- The obstruction of your tear ducts could happen if the corners of your eyes have not developed correctly where your tears drain into your tear ducts.
- In adults, one of the causes could be the lining of the tear duct thickens.
- Sinus or nasal problems
- Injured tissues and bone around the region near your eyes, such as your cheekbones.
- Growth of a tumor such as lacrimal sac, sinus, or nasal tumors.
- Eye infections that are not treated.
- Bells Palsy, which is a medical condition that can cause facial nerve paralysis.
- Age related changes which could cause the tear duct opening to become narrower and cause a partial blockage that slows down tear flow into your nose.
- Long term usage of certain topical medications like those that treat glaucoma.
- A possible side effect of radiation treatments and chemotherapy used for cancer treatments.
The blockage of your tear ducts can happen at any point in your tear drainage system.
Before any treatment can be done, you need to find out what is causing your blocked tear ducts. Sometimes before the problem can be corrected completely you may need one or more procedures or treatments. If you or your newborn baby has blocked tear ducts you need to clean the eyelids carefully with a warm damp washcloth but make sure that you do not use the same area of the washcloth more than one time. There are some physicians that suggest that you massaged the area two to three times a day very gently to help open up your tear duct. To do this you would make sure that your hands are clean and using one finger, rub the area from the inside corner of your eye toward your nose.
If the blocked tear duct causes an infection, especially conjunctivitis which is highly contagious and can spread to your other eye you will need to see your physician to get a prescription of an antibiotic ointment or eye drops to clear up the inflammation. In adults with a blocked tear duct, what is causing the blockage must be treated.
For babies born with a blocked tear duct most will improve and get better without doing any type of treatment because as the baby gets older the drainage system will start to mature. This usually happens by the time the child turns one year of age. The blocked tear duct can also clear up when the membrane in their nasolacrimal duct opens. If you have had an injury to your face, when the swelling starts to subside and the injury has healed your blocked tear ducts may unblock themselves, which usually happens in a few months after the injury occurred.
The physician may recommend surgery for adults and older children and may be recommended for toddlers and infants who still have blocked tear ducts after less invasive methods have failed to unblock the tear ducts. The surgery that a physician would recommend is called Dacryocystorhinostomy. This surgery would reconstruct your passageway for the tears to drain out through the nose again normally. It is performed as an outpatient surgery and you would either be given a local or general anesthetic.
The surgeon would go into the tear drainage system and create a new connection directly between your nose and lacrimal sac, which would bypass the duct that would normally empty into your nose. This is where most of the blockages commonly occur. While healing, the surgeon would put in intubations or stents and then they are removed in approximately three months after you have had the surgery. After you have had the surgery you will need to use topical eye drops and a nasal decongestant to reduce the postoperative inflammation and prevent infection.
Blocked Tear Duct Pictures
Pictures collection of blocked tear duct…