Blocked Tear Duct

What is a Blocked Tear Duct?

A blocked tear duct occurs when the eye can’t properly drain tears due to an obstruction in the system of glands and ducts that keep your eye moisturized.

Tears form in the lacrimal gland above the eye, then flow down to keep your eye lubricated. The tear fluid drains into small holes in the inner corners of your eyelids and, from there, moves into the lacrimal sac between your eye and nose. Finally, the fluid moves into your nose where it is reabsorbed. Any blockage in this system can result in tears overflowing and causing a watery eye and irritate skin around the eye.

Blocked tear ducts can be caused by infections, injuries and the resultant swelling, or tumors. Many babies are born with blocked tear ducts, which resolve in a few months or can be unblocked by a doctor.

What are the Symptoms of a Blocked Tear Duct?

You may notice that your tears are not draining correctly if you experience excessive tearing and watery eyes. The white of your eye may also become red and you may experience pain and swelling around your eye, particularly on the side of your eye towards your nose. Other symptoms include inflammation, crusted eyelids, a discharge of pus and blurry vision.

Blocked Tear Duct Causes

Tears are an everyday part of life. Unfortunately, in some cases, tear ducts get blocked, which means that tears won’t come, leaving eyes to become infected and sore. The causes include congenital defects, age-related changes, infections, injury or trauma, a tumor, or the effects of other treatments. Regardless of the cause of your tear duct blockage, you should probably see a doctor, who can prescribe numerous effective treatments that will solve the problem quickly and easily. Causes also tend to depend on the age and health condition of the sufferer. Older people, for example, have age related changes in their eyes or tumors, while young people have traumas.

How is a Blocked Tear Duct Treated?

The best treatment for a blocked tear duct depends on the cause.

Treatment includes

If an infection has produced the blockage, your doctor will prescribe an oral antibiotic or antibiotic eye drops to clear it up. Massage and warm compresses can help to move fluid through the duct system. If you have sustained an injury, it may simply take time to heal before your tear duct system is functioning properly again.

In babies and some adults, your doctor can perform an outpatient procedure where he or she uses a small probe to clear the blockage. In more advanced cases, a balloon catheter may be used, where a tube is inserted into the duct and a deflated balloon is gently expanded to open up the blockage.

Blocked Tear Duct Prevention

Since there are so many different causes of tear duct blockages, there are many ways to prevent them. Being aware of your eyes, especially when there might be a problem with them, is one of the most effective. When you notice that you might have a blocked tear duct, there are several things you can do. First, keep your eyes clean. This might involve wiping your eyes with a towel or cotton ball that has been moistened with warm water. Staying out of, or limiting your time in, the wind, cold and sunlight can also help to prevent blocked tear ducts. Finally, another good way to help prevent blocked tear ducts is to avoid touching your eyes unless you have washed them. This is an excellent method of keeping all sorts of germs and bacteria that can cause this problem out of your eyes. Regardless, if you suspect that you might have a blocked tear duct, see your doctor. The problem is easily and effectively treated using several topical medications. Your doctor will know best how to treat your specific situation.

Last Reviewed:
September 13, 2016
Last Updated:
November 17, 2017