From a puppy-dog “please?” in the toy store to a confused stare in the classroom, a child’s eyes can tell us a lot about their wants and needs. When working properly, their eyes might light up at their favorite flavor of ice cream, or start fluttering closed right around their bedtime. These nonverbal indicators are an important part of communication between child and parent.
However, sometimes their eyes can communicate something that the child—or their parent—might not fully understand. For instance, a child with tears running down their face might not be crying, confusing themselves and their parents, but rather suffering from a blocked tear duct.
What Exactly is a Blocked Tear Duct?
Though we usually think tears to be communicators of sadness, tears are typically ever-present and play an important role in eye health. Tears are made continuously by tear glands, which are located above each eye on the outer side. These tears travel to and wash over the eyes, keeping them moist, clean, and protected with every blink. As new tears arrive, old tears leave through two small openings at the inner eye. Then the tear ducts, and are carried from there to the back of the nose, and then down the throat.
However, when the tear duct is blocked, tears cannot take their typical exit route. This can happen in one or both eyes, and can result in issues that might cause discomfort.
How Does a Child’s Tear Duct Become Blocked?
(opens in a new tab) are born with at least one underdeveloped tear duct, leading to a blockage. However, since babies do not begin producing tears until they are a few weeks old, the blockage is typically not caught by a doctor at birth. Moreover, symptoms may only become apparent when the baby cries, or when the weather is windy or cold, leading to a later diagnosis. Luckily, the affected tear ducts often open up on their own once the baby has reached six months of age.
However, older children can still develop blockages after their tear ducts are fully formed. Some common causes of blocked tear ducts in children over the age of 1 year include:
- A polyp, cyst, or other non-cancerous growth in the nose
- A tumor in the nose
- An eye injury or other trauma to the face
- Conjunctivitis (pink eye) or other infection
- Small particles becoming lodged in the duct
What Are the Symptoms of a Blocked Tear Duct?
If your child is experiencing any of the following symptoms, they may have a blocked tear duct:
- Tears pooling in corner of eye
- Painful swelling near corner of eye
- Tears draining down face (outside of crying)
- Redness in or around eye from rubbing
- Yellowish discharge from the eye
- Crust on lids or lashes
- Blurred vision
How Can Blocked Tear Ducts in Children be Treated?
Whether your child is a baby or of school age, there are treatments that may relieve them of the discomfort of a blocked tear duct. Keeping the affected eye(s) clean is most important; this can be done by gently wiping away any drainage with warm water and a cotton ball, going from inner to outer corner (after thoroughly washing your hands, of course!). An can also show you how to massage your child’s tear duct to reduce the blockage and encourage drainage.
In some cases where the blockage does not clear up on its own, children may need surgery on the blocked tear duct to resolve the issue. The most common surgery is a probing procedure wherein a thin metal instrument is guided through the duct in order to clear whatever is causing the blockage. This procedure has a success rate of (opens in a new tab), though your ophthalmologist may suggest a different procedure, as each case is different.
If you think your child may be suffering from a blocked tear duct and in need of an eye doctor in the Pittsburgh area, ’s team of eye care professionals are here to help. with one of our specialists at our office in (opens in a new tab), or call (412) 288-0858 for more information.