Blocked Tear Ducts In Infants: Should You Be Concerned?

Georgia Stone
Feb 02, 2024 By Georgia Stone
Originally Published on Mar 03, 2021
Tears are essential to the functioning of our eyes, as they clean them and maintain oxygen levels.
Age: 0-99
Read time: 5.9 Min

Wondering what to do if your baby has blocked tear ducts and constantly appears to be crying?

Look no further than this guide which will tell you everything you need to know about the issue. Plus, we will tell you how to address it and the small things you can do to relieve your baby's discomfort.

From its scientific name, the symptoms you observe, health information, and the type of treatment you should seek out, there will be nothing you won't know about nasolacrimal duct obstruction once you have finished reading this!

Rest assured though, it is not a serious medical issue and usually passes on its own within a few weeks after baby's birth. Read on to find out what causes it and how you should react if one of your children has a blocked tear duct.

If you enjoyed reading this article, you might also like to read this article about why your baby might have red under eyes, or this one detailing what your [baby might be thinking].

Why Do Babies Get Blocked Tear Ducts?

Let's begin by looking at what a tear duct actually is and what role it plays in the body.

A tear duct is the small canal that drains the tears from the inside corner of the eyes into the nose. Its scientific name is a nasolacrimal duct.

A blocked tear duct, also known as nasolacrimal duct obstruction, occurs when a baby's tear ducts are not fully developed at birth. This is actually a very common condition, affecting about 20% of babies according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology. Blocked tear ducts can affect one or both of your baby's eyes, and the issue is usually resolved by itself as the tear ducts develop with time. Essentially, instead of being fully developed at birth, the tear ducts might still be developing for a few weeks or months after your baby is born.

But what actually happens when we talk about blocked tear ducts in babies?

Tears exist to keep our eyes moisturized: our lachrymal glands are busy constantly producing tears that are spread onto the surface of our eyes by our eyelids when we blink. Tears are also helpful in getting rid of little particles like dust which might get into our eyes and irritate their surface, which is very sensitive. Basically, tears keep our eyes clean and healthy, also supplying them with oxygen.

As our lachrymal glands are constantly creating tears, we need a way to drain them: that's the tear ducts' role! However, if one or both of the tear ducts is blocked as it is not fully developed, the excess tears can't drain into the nose, resulting in some of the symptoms outlined below.

What Are The Symptoms Of A Blocked Tear Duct?

There are several symptoms that might indicate that your child is suffering from a blocked tear duct.

Your baby's eyes might be watery as the tears build up without draining. This might not be noticeable during the first one or two weeks after the birth, as lachrymal glands only start producing tears then. After that though, you might notice constant tearing on your baby's face even when it is not crying.

A blocked tear duct can cause slight irritation and redness of the eyeball, too. You might also notice some sticky or crusty eye discharge forming in and around the eyelids as the tears dry without being drained.

A blocked tear duct is not believed to cause congestion in infants, but if you are worried about your child experiencing both of these problems, you can contact a medical professional.

Redness, eyes watering and discharge are all symptoms of a blocked tear duct.

Is It Worrying?

The good news is, a blocked tear duct is not a worrying condition. It is very common, affects many children, and usually resolves itself naturally within a few weeks or months of birth.

A blocked tear duct does not cause serious harm to your child. However, it can cause a slight inflammation which could potentially evolve into conjunctivitis, which is an infection of the outer part of the eye. If you suspect this is the case, you should speak to your pediatrician.

Sometimes, a tear duct remains blocked for more than a few months, which can get quite uncomfortable for your child. If this is the case and the issue does not seem to be resolving itself, you should seek out the advice of an eye specialist who might be able to resolve the issue medically.

Similarly, if your baby's eyes seem very inflamed and red, if you notice redness forming around the eyelids, or if your child is in a lot of pain and refuses to open its eyes, you should see a doctor for medical advice and potential treatment. Look out for these signs that your baby might be suffering from a tear duct infection.

What To Do About Blocked Tear Ducts

Most of the time, a blocked tear duct will heal naturally, but there are things you can do to relieve your baby's pain.

As mentioned above, there is no specific treatment for a blocked tear duct and you generally should not have to do anything to cure it, as the issue usually resolves itself. However, here are a few things you could try to make your child more comfortable in the event that one or both of its tear ducts are obstructed.

Massaging baby's tear duct can help drain the tears and facilitate the formation of tear ducts. Be very gentle and put a small amount of pressure with your finger on the outside of your baby's nose, then make light stroking movements towards the tip of the nose. Repeat this process regularly, from five to 10 times a day.

Wipe away the excess tears and sticky/crusty discharge with a piece of gauze and some sterilized water. You can obtain sterilized water by boiling it then letting it cool to room temperature. Do not use any substance which contains perfume, chemicals, or artificial substances to clean the area surrounding the eyes of children, as this may cause redness, tearing, or infection. Make sure the water is properly sterilized by boiling it before using it to ensure no bacteria is present and contaminates the eyes. Then ensure it is sufficiently cooled before using it.

If the blocked tear duct shows signs it is evolving into an inflammation or infection such as conjunctivitis, consult a pediatrician who will likely prescribe eye drops as a treatment. Do not attempt to solve the issue yourself.

In the event that the clogged tear duct does not fully develop after a few weeks or months, consult an eye doctor who can perform a simple operation to open the tear duct up medically.

If you found this article about blocked tear duct symptoms helpful, then why not take a look at reasons why your [baby won't nap], or why your [baby won't sleep in the crib] too?

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Written by Georgia Stone

Bachelor of Arts specializing in French with Film Studies, Bachelor of Arts (Year Abroad) specializing in Literature, History, Language, Media, and Art

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Georgia StoneBachelor of Arts specializing in French with Film Studies, Bachelor of Arts (Year Abroad) specializing in Literature, History, Language, Media, and Art

Georgia is an experienced Content Manager with a degree in French and Film Studies from King's College London and Bachelors degree from Université Paris-Sorbonne. Her passion for exploring the world and experiencing different cultures was sparked during her childhood in Switzerland and her year abroad in Paris. In her spare time, Georgia enjoys using London's excellent travel connections to explore further afield.

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