About a blocked tear duct
Tears flow from the eye to the nose through narrow tubes called tear ducts.
A blocked tear duct usually happens when the membrane inside the lower end of the tear duct, near the nose, is slow to open after a baby is born. This creates a blockage. Although the blockage is usually present from birth, it might not be obvious until your baby is around one month old.
Blocked tear ducts are common. About 1 in 20 babies are born with a blockage in one or both of their tear ducts.
Symptoms of a blocked tear duct
If your baby has a blocked tear duct, their eye will water constantly. When your baby wakes up, they might also have a discharge from their eye. You might hear these symptoms called ‘watering eyes’ and ‘sticky eyes’.
Other than the watering and sticky discharge, your baby’s eye is perfectly fine.
Rarely, the tissues around the tear duct get infected because of the blockage in the tear duct. If this happens, you might see a hard lump appear near the inner corner of your baby’s eye. The lump might look red, purple or black depending on your baby’s skin tone. The skin around the eyelid might also change colour.
Does your baby need to see a health professional about a blocked tear duct?
You should take your child to your GP or child and family health nurse if you’re concerned about your baby’s blocked tear duct or you notice any of the following:
- The whites of your baby’s eye or eyes look red.
- Your baby has a hard lump on the inner corner of their eye.
- Your baby’s eyelids change colour and are swollen.
- You notice other symptoms like sensitivity to light or your baby constantly squeezing their eyes shut.
- There’s a greenish discharge from your baby’s eye.
- The tear duct is still blocked after your child has turned one year old.
Treatment for a blocked tear duct
A blocked tear duct usually gets better by itself, when the membrane inside the tear duct opens up. This usually happens by the time your baby turns one year old.
Your GP or child and family health nurse might show you how to massage the inside of your baby’s eye to help empty the tear duct of the sticky discharge.
If your baby has an infection, your GP might prescribe a course of antibiotics.
If the tear duct is still blocked after your child turns one year old, your GP might refer you to a specialist. The specialist might recommend a procedure to open up the duct. This would probably involve using a fine probe while your child is under general anaesthetic.