Tear duct blockage means that there is a blockage of the tiny channels (ducts) that drain tears from the inside corner of the eye into the nose. These tiny channels are known as the tear duct (also called the nasolacrimal duct).
A blocked tear duct is common in babies. The blockage is usually only because the tear duct hasn't had enough time to develop properly. Once the tear duct has fully developed, the problem goes away, often within just a few weeks or months after birth.
Within the first 1-2 weeks after the birth of your baby, 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. Your baby is usually not otherwise affected by the blocked tear duct and is perfectly well, happy and healthy.
Sometimes after a sleep, the affected eye looks sticky or crusted but the eyeball otherwise looks healthy and white. However, this may sometimes develop into an infection of the outer part of the eye (conjunctivitis). The eye may then look inflamed and red.
Infection may also occur in the tear sac, which is where the tears travel from the inner corner of the eye to the nose. This infection is called dacryocystitis and causes redness and swelling between the inner corner of the eye and the nose.
Blockage of the tear duct in babies often resolves within the first month after birth, when the tear duct has become fully developed. However, sometimes the tear duct remains blocked for several months or much longer.
When should you take your baby to see a doctor?
A watering eye in a baby is (rarely) due to other eye problems. The following symptoms may indicate a different problem. If they occur, take your baby to see a doctor:
- If your baby's eye becomes inflamed, angry or red.
- If your baby rubs the eye a lot or seems in any discomfort.
- If your baby does not seem to want to open his or her eye, or light seems to hurt your baby's eye.
- If you have any concerns about the appearance of your baby's eye or eyelids.
Further reading and references
Nasolacrimal duct obstruction (nasolacrimal drainage dysfunction); College of Optometrists, March 2016
Resolution of congenital nasolacrimal duct obstruction with nonsurgical management; Arch Ophthalmol. 2012 Jun130(6):730-4. doi: 10.1001/archophthalmol.2012.454.
Takahashi Y, Kakizaki H, Chan WO, et al; Management of congenital nasolacrimal duct obstruction. Acta Ophthalmol. 2009 Jul 21.
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