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Blocked tear duct

 

Definition

A blocked tear duct is a partial or complete blockage in the system that carries tears away from the surface of the eye into the nose.

Alternative Names

Dacryostenosis; Blocked nasolacrimal duct

Causes

A tube called the nasolacrimal duct normally drains tears from the surface of the eye into the nose. If this duct is blocked, the tears will build up and overflow onto the cheek, even when a person isn't crying.

In children, the duct may not be completely developed at birth. In adults, the duct can be damaged by infection, injury, or a tumor.

Symptoms

The symptom is increased tearing, which overflows onto the face or cheek.

Signs and tests
Support Groups

Expectations (prognosis)

Tear duct blockage that is present at birth (congenital) often clears up by itself by the time the child is 6 months old. If it does not clear on its own, the outcome is still likely to be good with treatment.

The outlook for a blocked tear duct in adults varies depending on the cause.

Calling your health care provider

See your health care provider if you have tear overflow onto the cheek, because a tumor is one of the possible causes. Earlier treatment is more successful, and may be life-saving.

Complications

Tear duct blockage may increase the risk of eye infections.

Treatments

In children whose nasolacrimal duct has not developed fully, massaging the area several times a day may be enough to open the tear duct. Cases that do not improve may need to be opened by a probing procedure. This may require anesthesia.

In adults, the cause of the blockage must be treated. This may re-open the duct if there is not much damage. Surgery to reconstruct the passageway may be needed to re-establish normal tear drainage, and stop the overflow onto the cheek.

Prevention

Many cases cannot be prevented. Properly treating nasal infections and conjunctivitis may reduce the risk. Safety measures may reduce the risk of trauma that can cause a blockage.


Review Date: 8/1/2008
Reviewed By: Neil K. Kaneshiro, MD, MHA, Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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