Nasolacrimal Duct Obstruction (Blocked Tear Duct)

Nasolacrimal duct obstruction, or a blocked tear duct, is a common condition in infants.

The nasolacrimal system is the name given to the tear ducts that drain excess tears from the eyes into the nose. In a nasolacrimal duct obstruction, also known commonly as a blocked tear duct, a partial or complete blockage in the system prevents these tears from properly draining. Obstruction of the nasolacrimal system occurs in one to six percent of infants.

What causes a nasolacrimal duct obstruction?

A blocked tear duct can occur in one or both eyes, and there are several possible causes, including:

  • The nasolacrimal duct obstruction is present at birth due to a tear drainage system that has not fully developed enough to open the duct
  • Infection

What are the symptoms of nasolacrimal duct obstruction?

Symptoms of blocked tear ducts may include:

  • Tearing: Water wells up in the eyes and may overflow onto the eyelids, eyelashes and cheeks
  • Discharge: A nasolacrimal duct obstruction can cause a buildup of bacteria in the corner of the eye
  • Red and swollen eyelids: This occurs in severe cases, which can result in dacryocystitis, a serious infection of the nasolacrimal system

In many infants with nasolacrimal duct obstruction, the condition will resolve within the first year and symptoms will disappear. However, it’s important to note that in some cases, tearing in infants could also be a sign of other conditions, such as childhood glaucoma.

How do you treat nasolacrimal duct obstruction?

Treatment for infants with a blocked tear duct may include:

  • Eyedrops: Topical antibiotic eyedrops are used to treat bacterial infections
  • Tear duct massage: This gentle massage to the inner corner of the eyelid can help to open the blocked tear duct as well as drain any trapped fluid

Your Henry Ford pediatric ophthalmologist will recommend the best treatment based on your child’s unique needs, and work with you every step of the way.

Lacrimal probing

Infants with persistent nasolacrimal duct obstruction symptoms can be treated with a procedure called lacrimal probing, also known as tear duct probing. A very fine instrument called a probe is passed through the nasolacrimal system and can relieve the obstruction in the blocked tear duct.

Henry Ford pediatric ophthalmologists can perform this procedure in their office in infants between six and 13 months of age. Older children will require that the procedure be performed in the operating room under general anesthesia.

At Henry Ford, patients come first.

The Henry Ford Department of Ophthalmology is committed to providing our patients with compassionate, personalized care. We feature the most advanced treatments in eye care and are dedicated to vision research – always staying at the forefront of innovation. A leader in Michigan, as well as one of the largest ophthalmology practices in the United States, we treat more than 55,000 patients per year at 12 locations throughout southeast Michigan. In addition, our team works closely with Henry Ford Medical Group physicians in other departments, providing multidisciplinary, coordinated care for those patients who need it.

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