tear duct, blocked

AKA "dacryostenosis." This is a common condition of newborns (about 1 in 20). One or both eyes are constantly filled with tears and/or mucus. At first, an infection may be suspected and treated with drops or ointment, but the problem persists. The doctor will then explain that the tear duct is obstructed.

This condition can arise one of two ways. First, there may be old debris plugging the tiny tear duct that leads from the tear sac next to the eye and drains into the nasal passages (which is why one sniffs at a sad movie). This probably means that the duct itself is more narrow than usual, but in this case, eventually everything will work itself out of the duct and it will drain normally. Simple growth of the child will help the duct enlarge, too.

Less commonly, the duct is actually blocked by some tissue growing where it shouldn't. Your child will not grow out of this condition, and eventually, the duct will have to be probed. When this is done depends on the ophthalmologist's practice - I think nine to twelve months is not unusual. The probing involves putting the child to sleep for just a few minutes and probing a thin wire down the tear duct all the way to the nose. It is very quick and not painful after it is over, but it does involve general anesthesia. At any rate, the eye surgeon generally will want to wait until later in the first year because so few children will need probing if nature and massage are allowed time to work.

Your doctor will show you where the little tear sac is and will instruct you in massage. Keep at it - it takes a while. She will also talk to you about how to tell when the eye is not just running because of tear duct blockage but is actually infected and needs antibiotic drops or ointment. See also conjuctivitis.

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