A blocked tear duct is common and generally harmless in babies but may signify serious health issues in adults. If you have a blocked tear duct, it’s vital to seek immediate medical help. Some cases may resolve with non-invasive treatment, while others will require an oculoplastic surgeon. Here’s an overview of the main symptoms of a blocked tear duct and how to fix the condition.
What Is A Blocked Tear Duct?
A blocked tear duct is precisely what the name suggests. When your tear ducts are blocked, the tears can’t drain normally. Blocked tear ducts will leave you with a teary eye and irritation and stem from various factors. The prevalent causes include congenital blockage (in infants), age-related changes, infection and inflammation, injury, trauma, tumors, and treatments.
Tears come from the lacrimal glands inside the upper lids above your eyes. The tear flows over your eyes and drains into the puncta (openings inside the corner of the eyelids). From the puncta, tears flow to the canaliculi (small canals) then to a lacrimal sac reservoir on the side of the node. The tears then flow to the nasolacrimal duct, from which it drains into your nose and is reabsorbed.
Blockage can occur anywhere along the drainage system, from the puncta to the nose. Risk factors such as age, chronic eye inflammation, past surgeries, glaucoma, and cancer treatment increase the likelihood of blockage. A blocked tear duct will affect most drainage system parts, including the conjunctiva (transparent membranes over your eye). The blockage can lead to inflammation or infections.
Symptoms of Blocked Tear Duct
A watery eye or excessive tearing is the main symptom of a blocked tear duct. The condition is almost always treatable and temporary, but some cases require a professional eye doctor to resolve. Apart from excess tears, you may experience the following symptoms:
- Redness of the Eye: The white part of the eye may become red and irritated because of excessive tearing and the inflammation of the clear membranes covering it.
- Pink Eye: You may experience recurring eye inflammation and infections like conjunctivitis or pink eye.
- Blurred Vision: Your vision may become blurry because of excessive tearing, infections, or inflammation.
- Pain and Swelling: Painful swelling is common among those with a blocked tear duct because the blockage puts excess pressure on the glands. The pain and swelling are often near the inside corners of the eye.
- Crusting Eyelids: The excess tears and inflammation usually lead to crust forming on or around your eyelids.
- Mucus/Pus: You may experience mucus or pus discharge from the eyes and eyelids.
Watery eyes may develop alongside a cold, a sinus infection, or an eye infection not related to a blocked tear duct. Symptoms such as swelling and redness may also stem from injuries to the eye, not necessarily affecting the tear ducts. Some teary eyes develop because of bacterial infection, in which case you may experience other symptoms like fever. Exposure to wind, dust, and bright light may also trigger excessive tearing, so professional diagnosis is vital.
Blocked Tear Duct Symptoms in Babies
Babies don’t start producing tears until they are a few weeks old. You won’t notice the symptoms of a blocked tear duct straightaway. Once they begin producing tears, you may see the following symptoms, which suggest a blocked tear duct:
- Redness: The eye surface will become red, usually because your baby is frequently rubbing the eye area.
- Unusual Drainage: Tears will drain down the cheek instead of the usual corner of the eye.
- No Drainage: Tear may pool near the corner of your baby’s eye without draining.
- Discharge: You may notice a yellowish discharge, mucus, or pus in the baby’s eye.
A blocked tear duct is harmless for babies but may cause distress for you and your baby. If you notice these symptoms in your baby, seek an immediate diagnosis. Popular tests include tear drainage assessment, eye imaging, irrigation, and probing. Treatment may include medication, dilation, probing, flushing, stenting, balloon catheter dilation, and snip punctoplasty.
What to Do For a Blocked Tear Duct
In babies, blocked tear ducts will resolve in a few weeks or months without treatment. As the tear duct and glands mature, they’ll naturally remove the blockage. Your post-natal doctor may suggest a special eyelid massage to open the tissues for optimal tear flow. In adults, blocked ducts may resolve naturally or require treatment, such as massage.
Other cases may call for surgery from an oculoplastic surgeon. It’s vital to wash your hands thoroughly and frequently and avoid rubbing your eyes. If you wear contact lenses or glasses, follow all cleaning recommendations from your eye care specialist. You should also schedule an appointment with your doctor for a professional diagnosis.
When to See an Oculoplastic Surgeon
There’s no home remedy for adults. It’s crucial to seek medical assistance to identify the underlying cause. Conditions arising from bacterial infections can resolve using antibiotic eye drops and pills.
If the cause is a narrow punctum, the doctor will use a small probe to increase the opening and irrigate the tear duct with a saline solution. Diagnosis will determine whether you need an oculoplastic surgeon for operations like dacryocystorhinostomy.
Dr Nick Koutroumanos specialises in eyelids, eye socked, and peri-ocular surgery. You can get a professional diagnosis, treatment, and surgery if necessary to restore normal tear drainage.
Book Your Consultation
Concerned about your eye health? Book a consultation with Dr Nick Koutroumanos: