Do you have excessive eye watering even when you are not crying? Does the white part of your eye become particularly red? Do you struggle with crusting or mucus from the eyelids? If yes, then you may have a blocked tear duct.
This condition can affect both adults and children. However, this condition is prominent in newborns. One study indicates that 20% of healthy infants showed signs of defective lacrimal duct systems in the first year of their lives. In 90% of these cases, the problem resolves over time.
What does this condition mean for your overall health? This guide provides a detailed analysis of how to deal with a clogged tear duct.
What Does a Blocked Tear Duct Mean?
Tears keep our eyes moist. They flow through tiny openings close to the nose on both the lower and upper eyelids. They pass through small tubes known as tear ducts and eventually reach the nose. As a result, we can get a runny nose when we cry.
A blocked tear duct occurs when something is blocking the pathway that moves tears from the eye to the nose, disrupting drainage and affecting the eye.
How Do Tears Work?
Your tear system, also known as the lacrimal apparatus, is like a network of ducts, sacs, and glands. It creates fresh tears and clears the old ones so the eye can protect and lubricate itself.
Tears moisten tissues like the cornea and conjunctiva. They also wash away any dust or allergens from the eye to keep it healthy and clean. The seventh cranial nerve (facial nerve), manages the movement of tears in and out of the eyes.
Watery eyes or dry eyes syndrome are a tell-tale sign that something is wrong with your tear system.
What Is a Tear Duct?
The tear duct, also known as the nasolacrimal duct, is responsible for draining tears from the eye. It works like a tunnel that carries tears and allows them to pass through the nasal bone and into the back of the nose.
Glands within your eyelids and the white area of your eyes are always producing tears. When you blink, these tears get released. They travel through two tiny holes known as puncta, located in the inner corners of your lower and upper lids, close to your nose.
How to Recognize the Symptoms of a Blocked Tear Duct
When there is a blockage, tears can’t flow properly through the nasolacrimal duct into your nose. This causes your tears to remain in your eye, which leads to blocked tear duct symptoms.
The signs may include:
- Overflow of tears
- Redness in the sclera (the white portion of the eye)
- Blurred vision
- Repeated inflammation or infection, commonly referred to as pink eye
- Crusted eyelids
- Pain close to the inner corner of the eye
- Pus or mucus discharge from the surface and lids of the eye
One of the easiest ways to spot a clogged tear duct is to pay attention to your tears. When there is excess tearing (epiphora), tears can start to spill onto the cheeks and face. In newborns, the extra tearing is easy to notice within the first two to three weeks after birth.
At times, the tears can be relatively thick. So, when they dry, the eyelids can turn crusty.
But, if the eyelids stick together, and there is pus, then this could be a sign of conjunctivitis.
What Could Cause a Blocked Tear Duct?
Many factors could lead to a clogged tear duct.
In some infants, the openings are underdeveloped when they are born. There could be a thin film partially blocking the tunnels.
For adults, things like eye injury, tear duct infection, or tumors can interfere with the tear system. Viruses, fungi, and bacteria can all lead to swelling and blockages because the bacteria keep multiplying in those tunnels.
People with recurrent sinusitis experience swelling in their sinuses. This forms scars that can interfere with the tear system. Injury or trauma to the face, like hurting your eyes or nose can also scar tissue and trigger swelling.
Women who are in menopause may be more prone to this kind of health problem, including those with allergies.
There are other reasons for the overflow of tears. For instance, the eyes may be creating more tears to combat dryness and irritation. At other times, glaucoma medications can interfere with your tear system.
Some cancer treatments can cause a blocked tear duct. Take radioactive iodine treatment for thyroid cancer, for example. The tear ducts might soak up iodine and swell.
Docetaxel, a chemotherapy drug used for lung cancer and breast cancer, can also impact the tear ducts.
Consult with an optometrist to find out the exact cause of your condition.
How Can Clogged or Blocked Tear Ducts Affect My Body?
People experience the blocked tear duct symptoms differently. In most cases, patients feel tears pooling in the corners of their eyes causing irritation and discomfort. That’s because it is often accompanied by itching, redness, blurred vision, eye pain, and crust. When there is not enough drainage, bacteria start to pile up all over the lacrimal gland and other eye areas.
If you recognize any of the signs, talk to a doctor. Treatment of the swollen tear duct removes the blockage and allows the tears to flow freely.
Who Might Be Prone to Blocked Tear Ducts?
Blockages can happen at any age. But, some risk factors can increase your likelihood of having them.
- Seniors – A lot is going on in your body as you grow older. Changes with age can make the puncta narrow and block the tunnels. So, older adults are at a higher risk of developing these symptoms.
- Newborns – Congenital blockage can lead to a clogged tear duct. The drainage system may need time to fully develop.
- People with persistent eye inflammation – When the eyes get constantly inflamed, red, swollen, or irritated, the tear system may be prone to damage.
- Patients who recently had surgery – Any surgery that involves the sinuses, nose, eyelids, or eyes can scar the duct system.
- Cancer patients – Chemotherapy or radiation, especially on the head or face can affect the tear system.
- People taking eye medicine – Some eye medications, like those for glaucoma, can lead to a blocked tear duct.
How Is a Blocked Tear Duct Diagnosed?
Your GP can do a physical exam. He will ask about your medical history and any other health issues you might be having. If there is a sign of blockage or tear duct infection, he will refer you to an eye specialist.
An ophthalmic examination can help pinpoint the underlying causes. Eye experts can asses your tear drainage by flushing a unique fluid into the affected area. If you can taste it through your throat, then this means that the tear ducts are not working properly.
If additional testing is necessary, doctors may suggest a CT scan or X-ray.
How to Manage and Treat the Problem
Blocked tear duct treatment usually varies based on the severity of the symptoms.
You can manage mild symptoms with a warm compress, cleaning the eyelids, and using prescription medication. Doctors may recommend you apply cream to the affected area.
Stronger treatments are necessary for severe symptoms. Surgery known as dacryocystorhinostomy alleviates the discomfort and creates a new passage.
At other times, patients may benefit more from a completely different tear drainage system with conjunctivodacryocystorhinostomy.
If a tumor is causing problems, the doctor will suggest shrinking or removing it.
How to Avoid a Blocked Tear Duct
Here are some tips to avoid a blocked tear duct:
- Wash your hands frequently and properly.
- Don’t rub your eyes with dirty hands.
- Avoid using expired mascara, eyeliner, or eyeshadow.
- Don’t share your eye makeup with others.
- If you are using contact lenses, be careful about keeping them clean.
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Can a blocked tear duct be cleared?
Your doctor can suggest ointments or eye drops to clear the symptoms. If the condition is too severe, then surgery can help clear the blockages.
Can you fix a blocked tear duct without surgery?
If an adult has partially narrowed openings (puncta), a healthcare provider can use a small probe to widen these openings. Then, they can flush the blockage out. This process is known as irrigation and is an outpatient blocked tear duct treatment.
Is a blocked tear duct serious?
Doctors don’t see it as a serious or life-threatening condition. However, if you don’t get treatment, you can experience recurrent infections, persistent discomfort, pain, and other complications. See an eye doctor who specializes in tear duct issues.
A swollen tear duct can happen to anyone at any time. If you take good care of your eyes and get on-time treatment, you can mitigate its impact. The options listed here can help you curb the symptoms.