Frequently Asked Questions

Blocked Tear Duct

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What is a blocked tear duct?

A blocked tear duct means your tears do not drain as they should. Tear ducts are small tubes at the inner corners of your eyes. The ducts drain tears from your eyes into your nose.

What causes a blocked tear duct?

Some babies are born with a blocked tear duct. This problem usually goes away on its own. The following can also cause a blocked tear duct:

  • Infections caused by bacteria or a virus

  • Injuries to your face, such as a broken nose

  • Certain medicines, such as eyedrops used to treat glaucoma

  • Sinus surgery or other procedures

  • An object in your tear duct

  • A mass in your eye

What are the signs and symptoms of a blocked tear duct?

Watery eyes is the most common sign of a blocked tear duct. Tears can spill over onto your cheek. They may be thicker than normal tears. You may have blurry vision. You may have redness or irritation in or around your eye. If you have an infection, you may have a bump under your eye.

How is a blocked tear duct diagnosed?

Your caregiver will ask about your symptoms and examine your eye. He may ask you to blink, and he may touch your eyelids or the corner of your eye. Caregivers also may do any of the following:

  • Measure your tears: You will hold a small piece of filter paper under your eye for 5 minutes to measure how many tears you produce.

  • Flush your tear duct: Your caregiver uses a syringe to flush out your tear duct.

  • Slit-lamp exam: This test uses a microscope to look into your eye. Your caregiver may put a special dye into your eye to see if your tears are draining as they should.

  • Nose exam: Your caregiver looks into your nose with a light or a special camera. This may help him see if your tear duct is blocked.

How is a blocked tear duct treated?

You may not need any treatment. The duct may open on its own over time, especially in babies. You may need any of the following to help open a blocked tear duct:

  • Massage: Gently rub a finger between the corner of the eye and the side of the nose. Do this several times a day to help open the blocked duct.

  • Warm compress: A warm compress can be a small towel or washcloth. Moisten it in warm (not hot) water. Apply the warm compress over the blocked duct area.

  • Warm water: Flush your eyes with warm water. Clean around your eyes with a clean, soft cloth. Caregivers may also irrigate (flush out) your tear duct.

  • Antibiotics: This medicine will help fight or prevent an infection.

  • Probe and stents: Caregivers may insert a small probe into your tear duct to see how bad the block is. They will flush out your tear duct. You may need a stent (tube) to keep your tear duct open. Ask your caregiver for more information on probing and stents.

  • Surgery: If your duct is completely blocked, you may need surgery to create a new path for your tears to drain. Ask your caregiver for more information about surgery.

What are the risks of a blocked tear duct?

  • A stent put into your tear duct may be visible to other people. The stent may damage the inside of your nose. Surgery may cause bruising or swelling around your eyes and nose. It may leave a small scar. Even with surgery, your duct may become blocked again.

  • Without treatment, you may develop an infection in your tear sac (where tears pool). An infection may cause eye or vision damage. You may even lose your sight. This damage may be permanent. An infection may spread to other parts of your face or body. A severe infection can be life-threatening.

When should I contact my caregiver?

Contact your caregiver if:

  • There is white or yellow discharge coming from your eye.

  • The white or colored part of your eye appears bumpy.

  • Your tears are bloody.

When should I seek immediate care?

Seek care immediately or call 911 if:

  • You have a fever.

  • Your pupil looks larger than the pupil in your other eye.

  • The area around your eye is red, swollen, or painful.

  • You cannot see as well as usual.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2014 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

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