Blocked Tear Duct (Infant)

Tears keep the eyes moist. Tears flow into a small opening at the corner of the eye and drain into the tear duct. The tear duct carries the tears into the nose. In some newborns, the tear duct has not opened yet. This is called a blocked tear duct. As a result, tears have no place to go. This may cause crusting, watery eyes, or tearing even when not crying. This may occur in one or both eyes.

Since tears don't start flowing until 3 to 4 weeks of age, symptoms don’t appear right away after birth. Most of the time the tear duct opens fully on its own by the time a baby is 12 months old and the problem goes away. If the duct stays blocked by 6 to 12 months of age, it can be opened with a simple procedure.

A blocked tear duct increases the risk of an eye infection. An infected eye is red and has a thick yellow discharge. The lid may be swollen. It will need treatment with antibiotic drops.

The tear sac itself may become infected. This causes redness, swelling, and pain near the nose. If this occurs, a procedure may be needed to drain the sac before treating the infection.

Home care

  • Wash your hands before touching your baby’s eye.

  • Wipe away any drainage around the eye.

  • Using a cotton ball or washcloth soaked in warm water, gently wipe from the side of the nose to the outer part of the closed eye. Repeat this motion several times with a clean part of the cotton ball or washcloth. A small amount of tear fluid may appear in the corner of the eye. That is normal. This massages the area of the tear duct and will help prevent infection. This may also help the duct open sooner. Do this twice a day.

  • You may use children’s acetaminophen for fussiness or discomfort. In infants older than 6 months, you may use children’s ibuprofen. Talk with your healthcare provider before using these medicines if your child has chronic liver or kidney disease. Also talk with the provider if your child has had a stomach ulcer or bleeding in the digestive tract.

  • Watch for signs of infection, listed below. Report any signs that you see to your baby's healthcare provider right away.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your baby’s healthcare provider, or as advised, if the condition continues after your child’s first birthday.

When to get medical advice

Call your baby's healthcare provider right away if any of the following signs of infection occur:

  • Swelling or redness of the eye lids

  • Redness of the eye

  • Yellow discharge from the eye

  • Swelling or redness between the corner of the eye and the nose

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