A blocked tear duct prevents tears from draining normally which causes a watery and irritated eye. This condition is common in newborns and usually gets better without medical intervention. However, a blocked tear duct in adults is caused by injury, infection, or tumor.
Fortunately, a blocked tear duct is almost always treatable. Treatment options will depend on the cause and on the age of the affected person.
A blocked tear duct may manifest the following signs and symptoms:
- Excessive tearing
- Recurrent eye infection or inflammation (conjunctivitis)
- Crusting around the eyelids
- Painful swelling around the inside corner of the eye
- Blurred vision
Congenital blockage. It is common among infants to have blocked tear ducts which will eventually heal on its own. This is caused by the tear drainage system not being fully developed or having some abnormalities.
Age. As a person ages, the tiny opening where tears drain (puncta) becomes narrower and more prone to blockages.
Infection or inflammation. Recurring inflammation or infection of the eyes can cause blockages in the tear ducts.
Injury. Bone damage or scarring caused by injuries or trauma near the drainage system can disrupt the normal flow of tears and cause blockages in the tear ducts.
Tumor. A tumor near the tear ducts such as the nose can cause blockages. Chemotherapy and radiation treatment for cancer can also cause a side effect of blocked tear ducts.
Eyedrops. Although very rare, long-term use of eye drops such as the ones to treat glaucoma can cause blocked tear ducts.
Because of the disrupted flow of tears, the tears left in the drainage system become stagnant. This makes the eye prone to bacterial growth, infection, and inflammation which can spread to other parts of the eye such as the conjunctiva.
Prompt treatment of eye infections is one of the best ways to reduce the risk of developing blocked tear ducts. Some ways to avoid eye infection include:
- Frequent washing of hands
- Refrain from rubbing the eyes
- Replacing eye products regularly and avoid sharing them with others
- Proper contact lens hygiene if you are wearing one
When to see a doctor
Visit your doctor immediately if you notice persistently blocked tear ducts that have been going on for several days. If you tear excessively or are repeatedly experiencing eye infection, this requires immediate medical attention. A blocked tear duct may be a sign of a more serious condition such as a tumor that needs to be diagnosed early to prevent further damage.
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