Blocked Tear Duct (Dacryostenosis)

  • Overview

    Blocked tear duct (dacryostenosis)Tears are produced in the lacrimal gland, located under the bone of the eyebrow, and flow over the eye through tiny ducts along the eyelid. After draining away from the eye through two small openings at the inner corner of the eyelids, tears drain into a larger passage from the eye to the inside of the nose, called the nasolacrimal duct, or tear duct.

    In some babies, the openings into the tear duct haven’t formed properly. This causes a blockage, and the tears have no place to drain.

    • As many as 6 percent of newborns have a blocked tear duct in the eye. This condition is called dacryostenosis or congenital lacrimal duct obstruction, meaning it’s present at birth.
    • A blocked tear duct can occur in one or both eyes.
    • Because infants don’t produce tears until they are several weeks old, a blocked tear duct may not be noticeable at birth. It may also be noticeable only when a baby cries, or in cold or windy weather when tears are stimulated.
    • Fortunately, nearly all blocked tear ducts open on their own, usually by the time the child is 1 year old.

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    Children's Hospital Boston
    300 Longwood Avenue
    Boston MA 02115

     617-355-6401


  • In-Depth

    What is a blocked tear duct?

    As many as 6 percent of newborns have a blocked tear duct in the eye. This condition is called dacryostenosis or congenital lacrimal duct obstruction, meaning it’s present at birth.

    • Tears help clean and lubricate the eye and are produced in the lacrimal gland, located under the bone of the eyebrow.
    • Tears from the lacrimal gland flow over the eye through tiny ducts along the eyelid and drain away from the eye through two small openings at the inner corner of the eyelids.
    • They then drain into a larger passage from the eye to the inside of the nose, called the nasolacrimal duct, or tear duct.

    In some babies, the openings into the tear duct haven’t formed properly. This causes a blockage, and the tears have no place to drain. A blocked tear duct can occur in one or both eyes.

    What are the symptoms of a blocked tear duct?

    Each child may experience symptoms differently, but the most common symptoms of a blocked tear duct include:

    • tears pooling in the corner of your baby's eye
    • tears draining down your baby's eyelid and cheek
    • mucus or yellowish discharge in the eye
    • reddening of the skin from rubbing

    Because infants don’t produce tears until they are several weeks old, a blocked tear duct may not be noticeable at birth. A blocked tear duct may also be noticeable only when a baby cries, or in cold or windy weather when tears are stimulated.

  • Tests

    How is a blocked tear duct diagnosed?

    A blocked tear duct is usually diagnosed based on a complete medical history and a physical examination of your child. Additional tests are not usually required to confirm the diagnosis.

  • The most common treatment for a blocked tear duct is gently "milking" or massaging the tear duct two to three times a day. Your child's physician will show you how to do this.

    If there are symptoms of infection, antibiotics developed specifically for use in the eye may be used.

    Fortunately, nearly all blocked tear ducts open on their own, usually by the time the child is 1 year old. If the duct still remains blocked, the duct opening can be enlarged with a small probe. The procedure may need to be repeated, but it's effective in most cases.

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