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Blocked tear ducts can affect anyone but are most common in infants, causing excessive tearing that runs down the face and cheek. You can treat this condition at home by massaging the area between the eye and the bridge of the nose. Regular cleaning and warm compresses might also help to unblock the tear ducts. When home remedies are unsuccessful, surgical procedures might be necessary.
Most cases of blocked tear ducts occur in infants, usually because the tear ducts are not fully developed. These infantile cases usually self-correct within the child’s first year as the tear ducts mature and begin to function properly. In adults, the blockage is most often the result of an infection, injury or some form of unusual growth that pinches the tear duct closed.
Your first step in treating blocked tear ducts should be confirmation, especially when the case is present in a newborn. Symptoms such as tearing might be caused by other conditions, and some such as infantile glaucoma can be quite serious. Your doctor can quickly confirm whether the tear duct is blocked or inform you if another condition is present. Additionally, if the blockage was caused by another condition, such as infection, treating the cause is essential for clearing the blockage.
Massage is one of the most commonly recommended treatments for blocked tear ducts. After thoroughly cleaning your hands, gently massage the space between the inner corner of the eye and the bridge of the nose, rubbing toward the nose. Massaging several times a day can help to clear the blockage and allow the ducts to function properly.
You also can clean the ducts with a warm washcloth. To minimize the chance of infection, you need to make sure that you do not use any portion of the cloth more than once. Heat also can be applied using a compress. The warmth is not only soothing, it also will help to open the duct and aid drainage.
Sometimes, home remedies are not sufficient, and doctors must surgically clear the blocked tear ducts. While the patient is under anesthesia, the doctor probes the tear duct with a thin wire to clear the blockage. After probing, the duct is flushed with saline. The entire process takes about 10 minutes.
Most cases can be successfully treated at home, and for those who require medical intervention, probing is usually effective. In the rare cases where these measures are not sufficient, doctors have other methods available to clear the tear ducts. In some cases, silicon tubes called stents are inserted to keep the tear ducts open. Another procedure uses a balloon catheter, repeatedly inflated and deflated, to stretch the tear duct open. Your doctor can advise you on the best options.