The Life Of A Tear

Tears are produced by the lacrimal gland, located above the eye and under the eyebrow. These tears then naturally flow over the eye and enter small openings at the inner corner of the eye. Finally, tears drain into tear ducts that sit on either side of the nose.

When tears can’t flow

In up to 20% of newborns, the openings to the tear duct don’t form correctly. This causes a blockage, and tears have nowhere to go. Blockages can be partial or complete, dispelling tears to other areas instead. The condition can occur in one or both passageways at the same time.

There’s your problem

There are a number of reasons why a child can end up with a blocked tear duct. While the most common cause is improper formation at birth, particularly narrow ducts can also become obstructed. In some instances, the nasal bone can restrict passage into the tear duct as well. Even an infection in the area can lead to closure of the tear passageway along the nose.

What to keep an eye out for

Children experiencing a blocked tear duct will likely have an eye that waters incessantly. Tears may pool in the corner of the baby’s eye or cascade down the lower eyelid and cheek. In addition, yellowish mucus may appear in or around the opening of the tear duct. This mucus is a normal layer of tear film but has nowhere to drain. The area may also become red as children rub the site frequently in an attempt to reduce irritation.

This is getting complicated

Blocked tear ducts can be the cause of or result in infection at the duct opening. This condition, called dacryocystitis, can result in swelling, redness, pain, or fever. An eye doctor will typically combat the infection with antibiotic eye drops.

Taking care of business

Most tear duct blockages resolve over time, often before a child turns 1 year old. A physician will monitor the tear duct and likely recommend at-home treatment to help the tear duct open. To do so, a caregiver can gently massage the area 2-3 times per day with clean hands. Mucus buildup should be wiped away with a warm cloth in a soft downward motion. If antibiotics were given, these should be used exactly as proscribed.

Probe a little further

If tear ducts are still not open as the child approaches age 1, the ophthalmologist may suggest additional treatment. The healthcare specialist can use a small probe to open the tear duct and clear out any obstruction. Depending on the age of the child, some form of anesthesia may be used to prevent unwanted movement. This procedure may need to take place more than once if the tear duct closes up again. From time to time, a small tube can be placed into the duct to help the passageway remain open.

The doctor knows best

Newborn babies don’t start making tears until about two weeks old, so symptoms may not be immediately present. Should symptoms appear, take the infant to an eye doctor to assess the situation. The physician can safely diagnose the problem and set up a proper treatment plan.