This condition is called dacryostenosis or congenital (present at birth) lacrimal duct obstruction. Tears help clean and lubricate the eye and are produced in the lacrimal gland 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 two small openings at the inner corner of the eyelids, then drain into a larger passage from the eye to the inside of the nose, called the nasolacrimal (tear) duct. In some babies, the openings into the nasolacrimal duct have not formed properly. This causes a blockage and the tears have no place to drain. A blocked tear duct can occur in one or both eyes. The blockage may be present at all times, or it may come and go.
Because infants do not produce tears until they are several weeks old, a blocked tear duct may not be noticed at birth. The following are the most common symptoms of a blocked tear duct. However, each child may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:
A blocked tear duct may be noticeable only when a baby cries, or in cold or windy weather when tears are stimulated. The symptoms of a blocked tear duct may resemble other conditions or medical problems. Always consult your child's physician for a diagnosis. How is a blocked tear duct diagnosed? A blocked tear duct is usually diagnosed based on a complete medical history and a physical examination of your child. Additional tests are not usually required to confirm the diagnosis.
Specific treatment for a blocked tear duct will be determined by your child's physician based on:
The most common treatment for a blocked tear duct is gently massaging the nasolacrimal duct two to three times a day. Your child's physician will show you how to do this. If there are symptoms of infection, antibiotics, especially for use in the eye, may be used. Fortunately, nearly all blocked tear ducts open on their own and usually by the time the child is 6-9 months of age. If the duct remains blocked after this time, the duct opening can be enlarged with a small probe. This may need to be repeated, but this procedure is effective in most cases.
Updated 09-25-2008 by Nicholas A. Sala, D.O.