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What is a Clogged Tear Duct?

Tricia Christensen
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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A blocked or clogged tear duct is a fairly common condition in infants, although it may also occur for a number reasons in older kids and adults. People often think that a clogged duct means they can’t produce tears, but in fact this isn’t true. Usually, a blockage means that the eyes cannot properly drain tears. This means the eyes may have excessive tearing, get swollen and become subject to frequent infection.

Someone who has a clogged tear duct may have symptoms such as bloody looking tears, crust or stickiness around the affected eye, swelling of the eyelid on the inside corner, and frequent eye infections and redness. If this condition persists, especially if the bottom eyelid or the inside corner of the eye is swollen, a blocked duct is likely the cause.

In infants, the most common cause of a clog is lack of development of the tear duct or even a small bit of tissue over the affected duct. Sometimes, people of any age have abnormal structure of the face or head, which prevents tear ducts from draining properly. Other causes include infection, cysts or tumors, using eye medication (though rarely), aging, and facial injury. Sometimes, there’s little need to find the specific cause because it’s obvious, and other times, a healthcare professional may need to look for a cause.

It used to be common to do surgery on infants with a clogged tear duct in order to open the duct. Medical professionals now know that this is usually unnecessary because the duct often opens on its own in a few months. Parents may be instructed to do special kinds of massage of the eye to facilitate opening.

In adults and children who have a clogged duct, surgery may be the most common method of treating the condition, though many healthcare professionals wait to see if the condition clears on its own. Surgery can involve a variety of different methods, and one of the most common is dacryocystorhinostomy. In this procedure, surgeons create a new pathway for tear drainage that goes around the blocked duct, and may leave tiny tubes in this passage to facilitate drainage. These are usually removed about six months later.

There are some risks to having a clogged tear duct. It is much easier for the eyes to become infected, and these blockages can interfere with vision and feel uncomfortable. Unfortunately, most people can’t really prevent these blockages, except to try to avoid eye infections like pink eye through good handwashing practices. It’s also important for people to keep their hands off their faces, especially in public, since this is the easiest way to get things like pink eye that might create these blockages. Individuals should also wear protective glasses for any tasks that have the potential to cause eye injury.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a The Health Board contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By anon330650 — On Apr 17, 2013

Today after school when I was walking, my eye started hurting. Not my whole entire eye, just beside my tear duct. Now I'm having a fever and can't even hear out of my left ear. Every time I blink, my right eye hurts bad. I really need help! Please you have to answer my question. Do I have an eye infection? Blocked tear duct? Please help me.

By anon293059 — On Sep 24, 2012

My son is four. His right eye has a blocked tear duct. The doctor has suggested surgery, but I do not agree. What can I do?

By anon208943 — On Aug 24, 2011

Try this. It works! Both my children were cured of their blocked tear ducts this way. Take your child swimming in a chlorine pool. When we exposed both our daughters to a chlorine pool, the oldest was one and the other was two years old, and their eyes cleared up. They had both seen an eye doctor who said they needed surgery.

We went on vacation and swam in a chlorine pool for a week, and went home with clear eyes that have stayed clear since (two months now). I had to share this, because I believe it was the chlorine water that did it. Try it! What could it hurt?

By anon134452 — On Dec 14, 2010

I'm 14, and i frequently have swelling on the inside corner of my left eye, right by that little dot I'm guessing is the place tears come out?

Recently I woke up with bloodshot eyes swollen almost shut. the problem went away in a few days, followed by the inner corner being swollen and painful the next day. I think it's a blocked tear duct, and I'll try massaging it.

By anon86546 — On May 25, 2010

my inside corner of my eye is swollen and it hurts when i blink. But it is not red. Do i have a blocked tear duct?

By Ashton13 — On Jan 13, 2009

Well i am 13 and my eyes have been watering for a couple of months now and i have not seen any improvement and have been using eye drops for 3-4 weeks now?

The only thing is that i do not want to have to get surgery because im scared something might go wrong, i would like to try something else what can i do?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a The Health Board contributor, Tricia...
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