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Does Your Child Have a Blocked Tear Duct?

    Does Your Child Have a Blocked Tear Duct?

    From birth, our tears come from lacrimal glands above our eyes, within the upper eyelids, on the area farthest from the nose. The tears drain from the tear duct into the nose. In some instances, the tear duct can develop blockages that prevent tears to drain naturally. Babies may have a blocked tear duct that gets better on its own or sometimes gets better through treatment.

    What Is Normal Tear Production and What Causes a Blocked Tear Duct?

    Blocked Tear Duct

    In order to fight dirt and debris, our eyes cover themselves with a three-layer moisture barrier called the tear film. The first main middle watery layer comes from the lacrimal gland which is located in the upper area of the eyes.

    When we blink, the eyelids will spread the tears down to the rest of the surface. The second thin oily (lipid) layer comes from the meibomian glands which are located within the eyelids. The last layer is the thin innermost mucous layer which provides the cornea with nourishment and sticks the tear to the surface of the eyes.

    Normally, tears produced by the eyes later drain through the canaliculi (small channels) into a tear sac. From here, it flows through a channel called the tear duct (or nasolacrimal duct) and into the nose. When a person’s tears can’t be drained thoroughly, they might develop a blocked tear duct.

    Although it can happen at any age, blocked tear ducts happen most often in newborns and toddlers.

    Symptoms of a Blocked Tear Duct in Children

    The following are the symptoms of the condition in children. However, tear duct blockage can occur in one eye too.

    • The eye becomes watery or tears heavily.
    • Yellowish or white pus discharge in the corner of the eye. The eyelid can be stuck together.
    • Crusted mucus along the eyelashes.
    • Mild redness and swelling around the eye or nose.

    Parents, if your child has a complete blockage, they will experience these symptoms. However, in some conditions, you may notice the symptoms when they have a nose blockage or they are producing extra tears. This condition is called partial blockage.

    Sometimes, your child may have a fever or their nasolacrimal sac turns red, swollen, and painful. This condition is called dacryocystitis. Your child may develop this condition occasionally when the nasolacrimal sac is infected due to the tear duct blockage.

    Blocked Tear Duct Causes

    According to health experts, the most common reason for the condition in children is a tear duct system that is only developed partially. The following are the other causes of a blocked tear duct.

    • Cancer treatments: Chemotherapy medication and radiation treatment may have side effects like a blocked tear duct.
    • Congenital blockage: Some babies are born with a blocked tear duct. It might be due to duct abnormality or an under-developed drainage system.
    • Inflammation or infection: Your baby may have a blocked tear duct due to chronic infection or inflammation in your child’s eye, tear drainage system or in the nose.
    • Aging: As your child ages, the tiny openings that drains tears may narrow, causing a blockage.

    Know the Complications

    Your child may get an eye infection due to a blocked tear duct. In this condition, you may consult a pediatrician who may recommend antibiotics.

    Scientifically, by the time your child turns one year old, the condition may heal on its own. However, if the ducts are still blocked, they may need medication or treatment. The following section may guide you with the treatments for the blocked tear duct.

    Blocked Tear Duct Treatments

    Fortunately, it is not considered a serious condition as it may go away on its own mostly before the age of nine months.

    However, it is important for you to follow these following steps to prevent infections and speed up the healing process:

    • Apply a warm compress: Gently clean the eye with a soft and warm cotton ball or washcloth if you see any drainage buildup.
    • Tear duct massage: Apply gentle pressure between the ducts and alongside the upper nose. This can prevent fluid buildup in the duct.
    • Eye drops: If the area is infected, your doctor may prescribe an antibiotic eye drop.
    • Wash your hands: Always wash your hands before and after touching the eye area.

    If your child’s blockage tear duct does not go away by the time of nine to 12 months, they may have to undergo nasolacrimal duct treatment.

    In this treatment, the pediatric ophthalmologist (eye specialist for children) may insert a probe into your child’s nasolacrimal duct and clean anything that causes blockages. This treatment is usually successful.

    Blocked tear ducts in babies are normal and may heal naturally. However, if you find your child has very watery eyes or any fluid discharge, you must contact your health expert and take proper guidance.

    Get your child’s eye checked in their sixth month to detect any possible issue. And if your child shows any signs of discomfort in their eyes or if they are unusually sensitive to light, seek medical advice and treatment from your pediatrician.

    Learn more about caring for your child’s health, here.

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    Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

    Picture of the authorbadge
    Written by Nikita Bhalla Updated Jun 20
    Medically reviewed by Kristina Campos, MD
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