What is a Blocked Tear Duct?
The tears that moisturize your eye drain through a tiny opening in the corner of your eye. The liquid enters your nose, where your body absorbs and disposes of it. A blocked tear duct is a full or partial obstruction (blockage) in the nasal (nose) passageways that drain tears. If you have a blocked tear duct, your eyes may be itchy, irritated and watery.
What Causes a Blocked Tear Duct?
Instances of a blocked tear duct in babies are fairly common, and they are usually due to birth abnormalities.
Adults most frequently develop a blocked tear duct as a result of:
- an infection in or near the eye
- an injury in or near the eye
- swelling around the eye
- a tumor
For older adults, the abnormal narrowing of the tear drainage system is a common cause of a blocked tear duct.
However, there are many other possible causes of a blocked tear duct. They include:
- chronic sinus infections, which can damage and block nasal tissue over time
- scar tissue from an injury, such as a broken nose
- age-related narrowing of the puncta, which are holes in the eyelids through which tears drain
- nasal polyps
- conjunctivitis and viral infections
- craniofacial abnormalities, such as a deviated septum
Females are twice as likely as males to develop blocked tear ducts, possibly due to their eye drainage canals being narrower.
What are the Symptoms of a Blocked Tear Duct?
The following symptoms could indicate a blocked tear duct:
- tears overflowing onto the cheek
- watery eyes
- irritated eyes
- mucus discharge from the eye
- dried discharge forming a crust on the eye
- frequent eye infections
- blurry vision
- swelling on one side of the nose, near the eyes
- bloody tears
When a tear duct becomes blocked, certain factors can make the symptoms worse. These include:
- cold weather
- strong sunlight
- the common cold
- sinus infections
What is the Treatment for a Blocked Tear Duct in Adults?
Blocked tear duct treatment depends on the cause. For example, if you have a tumor, your treatment focuses on removing or shrinking the tumor.
Additional treatment options may include:
- Medications: If an eye infection caused the blockage, your provider may prescribe oral antibiotics or medicated eye drops.
- Dilation, probing and flushing: Your provider enlarges the opening at the corner of your eye. Then, using a small probe, your provider sends fluid through the tear duct. Usually, this “flushing” removes the blockage at least temporarily.
- Stenting: Your provider places a small, hollow tube (stent) through the puncta and into the tear duct. The tube allows tears to drain properly. The tubes stay in place for about three months. You will see a small portion of the tube out of the corner of your eye.
- Balloon catheter dilation: Your provider places a small, deflated balloon into the tear duct. Then your provider inflates the balloon a few times to clear the blockage. You are usually under general anesthesia (medication to help you remain asleep) for this procedure.
- Snip punctoplasty: Your provider makes two or three small incisions around your puncta. These incisions create a larger tear duct opening. Snip punctoplasty is a common treatment for partial blockages.
What is the Dacryocystorhinostomy (DCR) Procedure?
If less-invasive options don’t bring relief, your provider may recommend surgery. Providers usually use dacryocystorhinostomy (DCR). This procedure creates a new route to drain tears into your nose.
On the day of surgery, you receive anesthesia to help you stay calm and numb during the operation. During the procedure, your surgeon:
- Creates a connection between your lacrimal sac and nose. The surgeon may use small incisions or place tools through the nose.
- Places stents (small, hollow tubes) to hold open the new route as it heals.
A dacryocystorhinostomy is usually an outpatient surgery, meaning you can go home the same day. Typically, your surgeon removes the stents after three to four months.