Blocked Tear Ducts
Blocked tear ducts can occur at any point along the tear drainage pathway from the eye to the nose. Tears normally drain through small openings in the corner of the upper and lower eyelids called puncta, through the canaliculus to the lacrimal sac and then via the nasolacrimal duct which opens into the nasal passage.
CAUSES OF BLOCKED TEAR DUCTS
Blocked tear ducts can be inborn (congenital) or may develop later in life (acquired).
Blocked tear ducts are common in newborns. The tear drainage system may not be fully developed at birth. A thin membrane or layer often remains at the junction between the duct and the nose. This may open spontaneously during the first few months of life.
Blocked tear ducts that develop later in life (acquired) are commonly located at the level of the naso-lacrimal duct. This may be caused by:
- Trauma or injuries
- Growth or tumours (cancers)
- Certain medications (chemotherapy drugs)
SYMPTOMS OF BLOCKED TEAR DUCTS
- Persistent discharge from the eye
- Blurred vision
- Eye infection
- Swelling or infection of the surrounding eyelid area
COMPLICATION OF BLOCKED TEAR DUCTS
The stagnant tears within the duct promote micro-organism overgrowth and this may lead to severe infection (canaliculitis or dacryocystitis).
DIAGNOSIS OF BLOCKED TEAR DUCTS
The eye doctor will ascertain if the tearing is due to blocked ducts by performing a simple clinic procedure called syringing. During syringing, fluid is irrigated through the tear duct system into the nose to assess for patency and the level of blockage.
TREATMENT OF BLOCKED TEAR DUCTS
Tearing in newborns may resolve by massaging the tear ducts alone. Failing which, your doctor may recommend a surgical procedure called probing to open up the tear passage.
In adults, tear duct blockage may require surgical correction if tearing is excessive or if frequent infection occurs. The type of surgery will depend on the location of tear duct blockage.
The surgery that is often used to treat blocked tear ducts (nasolacrimal duct obstruction) is called dacryocystorhinostomy. This surgery can be performed through the skin or though the nose (scarless).