Child Blocked Tear Duct

Moisture is vitally important to healthy eyes. Glands at the edge of the eyelid produce an oily film that mixes with tears to keep the eyes lubricated and protect against infection. Normally, this liquid then drains out of the eyes through the tear ducts in the inner corners.

However, up to a third of babies are born with tear ducts that are not fully developed, or are blocked. This condition, also known as dacryostenosis or congenital lacrimal duct obstruction, can result in excess tearing and eye infections.

Symptoms of a Blocked Tear Duct

Symptoms of blocked tear ducts usually develop within a few months of birth. Parents may notice:

  • Excessive tearing, even when a baby is not crying
  • Pus or mucus in the corner of the eye
  • Crusty eyelid or eyelashes
  • Redness or a bump at the inner corner of the eye
  • Swelling on the side of the nose

Should your baby have any of these symptoms, call your pediatrician. More than 90 percent of these cases clear up on their own by your baby’s first birthday, but treatment may be needed to prevent infection and complications.

Treating Blocked Tear Ducts in Children

Depending on the severity of your child’s condition, you may be referred to a Mercy Kids pediatric ophthalmologist who can offer several treatments for blocked tear ducts:

  • Mild cases may be treated at home. Our ophthalmologists will show you how to use warm compresses and gentle massage to clear the ducts, and how to know if the treatment is working.
  • Antibiotic eye drops or ointments may be prescribed if the eye becomes infected.
  • Surgical probing may be needed to open blocked ducts that do not clear up on their own. Using a surgical wire, the ophthalmologist will gently open the blocked tear duct. The procedure is done under general anesthesia, and most babies can go home the same day.
  • Surgery to expand the tear ducts may be necessary if probing does not resolve the problem. These brief procedures are performed under general anesthesia and include:
    • Silicone tube intubation: The eye doctor places silicone tubes into the tear ducts to stretch them. The tubes remain in the ducts for up to six months, and are then removed.
    • Balloon catheter dilation (DCP): The ophthalmologist inserts a balloon through an opening in the corner of the eye, and then inflates it with a sterile solution to expand the tear duct. The balloon is then deflated and removed.

Mercy Kids pediatric ophthalmologists treat babies and children with eye problems with expert, gentle care. Any time you have a concern about your child’s eyes or vision, give us a call.

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