A tear duct obstruction, also known as dacryostenosis or nasolacrimal duct obstruction, is a common condition that affects more than five percent of all infants and is present at birth. Tears usually drain through small openings in the corners of the eyelids, known as puncta, and enter the nose through the nasolacrimal duct. When an obstruction exists, tears cannot properly drain from the eyes and may well up on the surface of the eye and overflow on the eyelashes and eyelids. The eyelids may also become red and swollen with yellow or green discharge.
Many infants are born with nasolacrimal duct obstruction. The tear drainage system may not be fully developed or there may be an abnormality in the tear duct. A thin membrane often remains over the opening that empties into the nose in congenitally blocked tear ducts. Although more common in infants, nasolacrimal duct obstruction may also occur in adults and may be caused by infection, inury or a tumor.
Symptoms of a Tear Duct Obstruction
A blockage of the tear duct may be characterized by the following symptoms:
- Increase in the amount of tears
- Eyelids or eyelashes that are crusty
- Recurring eye infections
Swelling near the inside corner of the eye may also occur.
Treatment of a Tear Duct Obstruction
While most nasolacrimal duct obstructions clear on their own during the first year of life, certain measures can be taken to ensure that the eye is kept clean and free of infection, such as a tear duct massage performed three times a day or antibiotic eye drops to relieve discharge. If an obstruction does not clear up by the time the child is a year old, surgery may be recommended to relieve the obstruction. This procedure involves passing a soft probe through the tear duct and into the nose to open any obstruction within the path. The procedure takes about 10 minutes to perform. For adults, the blockage will need to be treated with surgery to clear the obstruction of the duct.