Blocked Tear Duct (Dacryostenosis) in Children

What is blocked tear duct in children?

A blocked tear duct is called dacryostenosis. It may also be called a congenital lacrimal duct obstruction. Congenital means that your baby is born with it.

Tears help clean and lubricate your baby’s eyes. They’re made in the lacrimal gland. This is located under the bone of the eyebrow. Tears from the lacrimal gland go into the eye through tiny ducts along the eyelid. Tears drain through 2 small openings at the inner corner of the eyelids. They then drain into a larger passage from the eye to the inside of the nose. This is called the tear (nasolacrimal) duct.

What causes a blocked tear duct in a child?

In some babies, the openings into the tear duct don’t form the right way. This causes a blockage. The tears have no place to drain.

A blocked tear duct can happen in one or both eyes. The blockage may be there at all times. Or it may come and go.

What are the symptoms of a blocked tear duct in a child?

Babies don’t make tears until they are several weeks old. So you or your baby’s healthcare provider may not notice a blocked tear duct at birth.

Symptoms can happen a bit differently in each child. They can include:

  • Tears pooling in the corner of your baby's eye
  • Tears draining down your baby's eyelid and cheek
  • Mucus or yellowish discharge in your baby’s eye
  • Reddening of the skin around your baby’s eye. This is caused by rubbing.

Your baby may only have symptoms when he or she cries. Symptoms may only show up in cold or windy weather when tears are stimulated.

The symptoms of this health problem may be like symptoms of other conditions. Make sure your child sees his or her healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

How is a blocked tear duct diagnosed in a child?

Your child’s healthcare provider may diagnose a blocked tear duct by giving your child an exam. He or she will also ask you about your child’s health history. Your child may need more tests to confirm the diagnosis.

How is a blocked tear duct treated in a child?

Treatment will depend on your child’s symptoms, age, and general health. It will also depend on how severe the condition is.

The most common treatment for a blocked tear duct is gently milking or massaging the tear duct 2 to 3 times a day. Your child's healthcare provider will show you how to do this.

What are the complications of a blocked tear duct in a child?

Sometimes a blocked tear duct may cause an eye infection. If this happens, your child may need antibiotics.

Most blocked tear ducts heal on their own. This often happens by the time your child is 1 year old.

If the duct is still blocked after your child is 1 year old, he or she may need treatment. Your child’s healthcare provider may enlarge the tear duct opening with a small probe. Sometimes this test needs to be done again. If this doesn’t work, your child may need surgery to fix the duct.

Key points about a blocked tear duct in children

Some babies are born with a blocked tear duct. Your baby needs tears to clean and lubricate the eye.

  • Babies don’t make tears until they are several weeks old. Most blocked tear ducts aren’t spotted at birth
  • A blocked tear duct may be noticed only when a baby cries. It may also show up in cold or windy weather, when tears are stimulated.
  • The most common treatment is gently milking or massaging the tear duct 2 to 3 times per day.
  • Most blocked tear ducts heal on their own. This often happens by the time your child is 1 year old.
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