Symptoms of a Tear Duct Blockage

Authored by Dr Colin Tidy, 12 May 2017

Patient is a certified member of
The Information Standard

Reviewed by:
Dr Adrian Bonsall, 12 May 2017

A blocked tear duct (nasolacrimal duct) causes the tears to build up on the surface of the eye and this makes the eye watery.

It may take until a week or two after birth before the tear glands (lacrimal glands) start to make tears. Therefore, you may not notice your baby having watery eyes at first. You may then notice one or both eyes becoming watery. Tears build up in the corner of the eye and run down your baby's cheek, even when your baby is not crying. The symptoms may be worse when your baby has a cold, or in cold weather. Your baby is usually not bothered by the watery eyes.

Sometimes after a sleep, the affected eye looks sticky or crusted but the eyeball otherwise looks healthy and white. Slight redness of the eyeball may come and go. This is due to mild inflammation and no treatment is needed. However, this may develop into an infection of the outer part of the eye (conjunctivitis). The eye may then look inflamed and red. This is not usually serious. See separate leaflet called Infective Conjunctivitis for more information.

Blockage of the tear duct in babies often resolves within a few weeks of birth, when the tear duct has become fully developed. However, sometimes the tear duct remains blocked for several months or much longer. Occasionally if the blocked tear duct does cause any difficulty for your baby or doesn't get better after about 12 months then your baby may need to see an eye specialist to help resolve the problem.

Further reading and references

Health Tools

Feeling unwell?

Assess your symptoms online with our free symptom checker.

Start symptom checker
Listen