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, his eye will be watering constantly. When he wakes up, he might also have a discharge from his 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 normal.

Rarely, the tissues around the tear duct get infected. If this happens, you might see redness spreading around your baby’s eyelid or green discharge from the eye.

Does your baby need to see a doctor about a blocked tear duct?

You should take your child to the GP if:

  • your baby’s eye or eyes look red
  • your baby has a hard lump on the inner side of her eyelids or her eyelids are red and swollen
  • you notice other symptoms like sensitivity to light or your baby constantly squeezing her 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 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 using a fine probe under general anaesthetic to open up the duct.