Blocked Tear Duct

Good news: This common condition can be easily treated at home. Here’s all the info you need to know to clear up baby’s blocked tear duct.
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By Jennifer L.W. Fink, Registered Nurse
Updated March 2, 2017
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What is a blocked tear duct?

Tear ducts are essentially a drainage system. Normally, they drain the eye of the tears that constantly bathe the eye’s surface. When the tear duct becomes blocked, tears aren’t able to drain normally and build up in the eye, causing teary, watery eyes and irritation.

Blocked tear ducts are very common in newborns. “The place where the tears are supposed to come back from your eye, down through your nose, is smaller in babies,” says Katherine O’Connor, MD, a pediatric hospitalist at the Children’s Hospital at Montefiore in New York City. “When the baby gets bigger, it’s easier for the tears to go where they’re supposed to.”

What are the symptoms of a blocked tear duct?

A watery eye and excessive tearing are the main symptoms of a blocked tear duct. You might also notice some yellowish mucus at the inside corner of baby’s eye.

Are there any tests for a blocked tear duct?

Most of the time, you (or your child’s doctor) can accurately identify a blocked tear duct on the basis of symptoms. A doctor, though, may place a special dye in the eye to watch how the tears drain.

How common is a blocked tear duct?

Up to 20 percent of babies are born with a blocked tear duct, which typically opens up on its own during the first year of life. Blocked tear ducts in babies are a “very common phenomenon,” O’Connor says.
How did my baby get a blocked tear duct?

In some babies, the tear duct simply isn’t fully developed at birth; it typically finishes developing and opens up sometime during the first year of life.

Babies are more vulnerable to blocked tear ducts because their ducts are tiny. Eye infections can also cause blocked tear ducts.

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What’s the best way to treat a baby’s blocked tear duct?

Most cases of blocked tear ducts resolve without medical attention. If you want to do something, you can place a warm, moist cloth over baby’s eye and gently massage the inner corner of the eye, near the nose. (That’s where the tear duct is located.) Sometimes, the combination of a warm compress and massage opens the tear duct.
If the blocked tear duct doesn’t resolve after a few months, O’Connor recommends seeing an ophthalmologist.

What can I do to prevent my baby from getting a blocked tear duct?

There’s not much you can do to prevent blocked tear ducts in very young babies. But because infection is an important cause of blocked tear ducts in older kids, good hygiene practices, such as always washing the hands before touching the eyes, may decrease your child’s chances of developing a blocked tear duct.

What do other moms do when their babies have a blocked tear duct?

“My daughter has had a yellow discharge in her right eye since Thursday night. I called the pediatrician’s office, and the nurse said that it was a clogged tear duct. She suggested I rub the corner of her eye with a warm washcloth several times a day to help it unclog. The discharge has been getting progressively worse. I plan to call the office again tomorrow to bring her in to get it checked out.”

“For a clogged tear duct, you want to take a clean, warm washcloth and gently wipe from the inner eye to the outer eye. Using a different part of the warm, clean cloth, put gentle pressure in a circular motion at the inner eye/tear duct to open it up. You will have to do this a few times until the drainage resolves.”

"My daughter had one for the longest time. We had to start in the corner of her eye and rub downward to try and get it unclogged. But we had to end up using eyedrops. They also said that if it didn’t go away and the drops didn’t help, they would have to go in and open it.”

“We’ve been battling a clogged tear duct ever since we brought my daughter home. The nurse at the breastfeeding clinic said as long as the discharge wasn’t green and that the eye wasn’t getting red or swollen, there was no need to worry and that it could easily wait until she has her appointment with her pediatrician in two weeks.”

Are there any other resources for blocked tear duct?

The Bump expert: Katherine O’Connor, MD, a pediatric hospitalist at the Children’s Hospital at Montefiore in New York City

Please note: The Bump and the materials and information it contains are not intended to, and do not constitute, medical or other health advice or diagnosis and should not be used as such. You should always consult with a qualified physician or health professional about your specific circumstances.

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