A blocked tear duct, also known as nasolacrimal duct obstruction, occurs when there is a partial or full obstruction in the passageways within the nose that normally drain tears. This can lead to symptoms such as watery, itchy, and irritated eyes.
Newborns commonly experience blocked tear ducts, but this condition often resolves without treatment within their first year of life. In adults, a blocked tear duct can result from factors like injury, infection, or, in rare cases, a tumor.
Fortunately, a blocked tear duct is typically treatable. The appropriate treatment approach depends on the underlying cause of the blockage and the age of the individual affected.
Watery eyes or excessive tearing are the most common indicators of a blocked tear duct. Other signs and symptoms may include:
- Pink eye, or recurring eye infection or inflammation
- The white area of the eye is red
- Swelling in the inner corner of the eye
- Crusting of the eyelids
- Mucus or pus drainage around the eyes
- Hazy vision
If you experience persistent tearing over the course of several days or frequently suffer from eye infections, it’s advisable to consult a healthcare professional. A blocked tear duct could potentially be attributed to a tumor exerting pressure on the tear drainage system. Detecting the tumor early on can provide you with a broader range of treatment alternatives.
Blocked tear ducts can affect people of all ages. Common causes of blocked tear ducts may include:
- Congenital blockage: Most newborns experience a blocked tear duct due to factors such as underdeveloped tear drainage systems, duct abnormalities, or the presence of a thin tissue membrane over the opening that connects to the nose, which is known as the nasolacrimal duct. This can result in narrowed or incompletely formed tear ducts, a condition referred to as dacryostenosis.
- Age-related changes: As you grow older, the small openings responsible for draining tears, known as puncta, can become narrower, leading to potential blockages.
- Infection or inflammation: Chronic sinus infections or eye infections might cause obstruction.
- Injury or trauma: Any eye injury near the tear ducts, even a scrape from microscopic grit particles, might result in a blockage. A facial injury can induce bone damage or scarring near the drainage system, disrupting the normal flow of tears via the ducts.
- Tumor: A blockage may occur if a tumor develops anywhere near the tear ducts or the tear drainage system, such as the nose.
- Eye drops: Although uncommon, a blocked tear duct can happen due to extended use of certain medications, such as glaucoma eye drops.
- Cancer treatments: Potential adverse effect of cancer radiation and chemotherapy treatment is a blocked tear duct.
Blocked tear duct is frequent in babies, and it usually resolves on its own. However, in adults, the risk of acquiring blocked tear duct is due to several factors, such as:
- Age: Age-related changes put older adults at higher risk of developing blocked tear ducts.
- Chronic eye inflammation: People with chronic eye inflammation, such as uveitis, are more likely to get a blocked tear duct due to constant eye irritation, redness, and inflammation.
- Previous surgery: A blocked tear duct is highly possible among people who have scarred duct system due to history of eye, eyelid, nasal, or sinus surgery.
- Glaucoma: People who used topical eye medicines like anti-glaucoma drugs, have an increased risk of developing a blocked tear duct. These medications are frequently applied directly to the eye.
- Previous cancer treatment: There is an increased risk of developing a blocked tear duct among individuals who have undergone cancer treatment, specifically radiation or chemotherapy targeted at the face or head.