Blocked Tear Ducts

Blocked tear ducts are a very common problem for infants. If your baby's eyes are watery most of the time, this is a good reason to suspect a blocked tear duct.

What is a blocked tear duct?

The medical term for blocked tear duct is dacryostenosis. Dacryon meaning tear and stenosis meaning narrowing of a duct. When the tube or duct running from the eye to the nose becomes blocked, your baby's tears cannot flow correctly out of the tear duct.

Symptoms of a blocked tear duct

As mentioned above, the primary symptom of a blocked tear duct is persistent watery eyes. Your baby will have tears even when she isn't crying. You may also notice her nose is dry, not damp or runny as you would expect when crying. If your baby's eye becomes infected, the eye may become red and swollen with goopy yellow or milky discharge. It may clear up after treatment only to reoccur again a short time later. Although infection does not always occur with a blocked tear duct, the eye may become infected. Tears provide a protective washing mechanism to cleanse the eye from bacteria. When the tear duct is obstructed the eye can more easily become infected or inflamed.

Another way to distinguish a blocked tear duct is that it typically begins during the first month of life. It also occurs usually just in one eye, however, it can occur in both eyes.

Treatment of blocked tear ducts

In most cases, your baby's tear duct will open on its own between six months to one year of age. If it persists past one year your doctor will want to refer you to an ophthalmologist for an evaluation. The ophthalmologist may open the tear duct with a probe.

Typically, the only treatment necessary for a blocked tear duct is massage. Doctors opinions vary on how to do this and some are no longer recommending massage at all. Speak to your doctor about her preference.

General tips for managing a blocked tear duct

  • ALWAYS wash your hands before touching baby's eyes.
  • If your baby's eye is red or inflamed with yellow or milky discharge contact your doctor as antibiotic treatment may be necessary.
  • Use a clean damp washcloth to remove any secretions around baby's eye. Use a new clean section of the washcloth with each wipe of the eye to help prevent infection.
  • Also remember to always wash baby's eyes from the inner corner to the outer corner to avoid introducing bacteria into your baby's tear duct.
  • Follow your doctor's instructions for any medications or treatment
  • Call your doctor if you have other concerns or questions


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