Blocked Tear Ducts

Blocked tear ducts, also known by the medical term "nasolacrimal duct obstructions," are very common in children and infants. When a tear duct system hasn’t fully developed, it can lead to blockage, excessive tearing and infection. Many cases of blocked tear ducts clear by themselves during the first year of life.

What are symptoms of blocked tear ducts?

Symptoms of a blockage include an overflow of tears, as well as red, swollen eyelids, and possibly a yellowish-green discharge from a build-up of bacteria in the tears.

How are blocked tear ducts diagnosed and treated?

If the tear duct obstruction does not resolve by itself, one or more of the following treatments may resolve the issue:

  • tear duct massage
  • topical antibiotic eye drops
  • tear duct probing 
  • balloon tear duct dilation
  • tear duct intubation

Sometimes if a blockage is severe, a doctor might recommend tear duct obstruction surgery.

First Aid: Pinkeye

First AidPinkeye (or conjunctivitis) is an inflammation of the white part of the eye and the inner eyelids. It can be caused by allergies, irritating substances, or infection from a virus or bacteria.

Some kinds of pinkeye go away on their own, but others require treatment with antibiotics. When pinkeye is caused by an infection, it can be spread easily from person to person.

Signs and Symptoms

  • discomfort or feeling like something is in the eye
  • redness of the eye and inner eyelid
  • watery or pus-like liquid seeping from the eye
  • lashes matted or stuck together upon waking up
  • itchiness and tearing (common with allergic pinkeye)

What to Do

  • Call your doctor, particularly for a newborn (treatment may include antibiotic drops or ointment).
  • Carefully clean the eye area with warm water and gauze or cotton balls.
  • Put cool compresses on the eye.
  • Give acetaminophen or ibuprofen to relieve discomfort (check instructions for correct amount).

Seek Medical Care

If Your Child:

  • shows no improvement in 2 or 3 days if treated, or a week if untreated
  • has eye redness that worsens
  • has increasing swelling of the eyelids
  • complains of severe pain
  • experiences any change in vision
  • shows sensitivity to light
  • has ear pain (pinkeye and ear infections can happen at the same time)

Think Prevention!

Wash hands well and often, especially after touching eyes. Don't allow sharing of washcloths, towels, and pillowcases. Talk to your doctor if itchy, watery, or red eyes are a frequent problem — allergies might be the cause.

If certain household things seem to irritate the eyes, try:

  • dusting and vacuuming often
  • closing windows and doors when pollen is heavy
  • keeping scented or irritating chemicals (like household cleaners) to a minimum
  • avoiding secondhand smoke

Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: September 26, 2016