About 5 percent of babies are born with a blocked tear duct in one or both eyes—a condition known as nasolacrimal duct obstruction. Infants may be born with an undeveloped tear duct, or there may be a thin film on the duct that causes a partial blockage. More than 90 percent of blocked ducts open by themselves before a child turns one.
In healthy eyes, tears drain into small openings called the puncta, located in the corner of the upper and lower eyelids. Tears then flow into the nasolacrimal duct. If this duct is blocked, tears overflow on the cheek.
The most common reason for a blocked tear duct is a membrane at the end of the tear duct that does not open normally. Tear duct obstruction can also be caused by:
Children with Down syndrome, cleft syndromes and other congenital conditions may be more prone to blocked tear ducts.
Common symptoms include:
An upper respiratory illness, a cold or exposure to wind and cold can affect the severity of the problem. Tear duct blockage can also increase the chance infection. Severe cases may result in a serious infection of the tear duct system called dacryocystitis.
Ophthalmologists at Riley at IU Health can diagnose a blocked tear duct and check for other rare causes of excess tears in infants, such as glaucoma. Diagnostic tests for a blocked tear duct include an eye exam or a special eye stain to see how your child’s tears drain. Occasionally, an x-ray may be taken to examine the tear duct.
In many cases, your child’s tear duct will open on its own. We may choose to monitor your child to see if the problem resolves without treatment.
The most common treatment for a blocked tear duct are:
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