Women sitting at a desk, rubbing her eyes
Women sitting at a desk, rubbing her eyes

Blocked or Infected Tear Ducts (Dacryocystitis)

When tear ducts are blocked, trapped bacteria can lead to infection and inflammation (called dacryocystitis). This occurs when the eye’s drainage system for tears is partially or completely obstructed. With tears unable to drain normally, the eye may become watery, irritated or chronically infected. This can happen to people at any age, but it is most typically observed in babies.

It’s estimated that nearly 20% of newborns have a blocked tear duct (congenital blocked tear duct), a condition that usually resolves itself within four to six months. Many infants are born with a membrane in the tear duct that may not open or is too narrow to allow the passage of tears. This is not uncommon and, in most cases, will resolve within the first year with no intervention necessary.

See Also: Infant Eye Conditions

In adults, the obstruction can result from eye infection, swelling, injury or a tumor. When blocked tear ducts lead to trapped bacteria and infection (dacryocystitis), there are telltale signs and symptoms.

Symptoms of Infection:

  • Inflammation or swelling: tenderness or redness on the inside corner of the eye or around the eye and nose
  • Recurring eye infections
  • Eye discharge
  • Crusty eyelashes
  • Blurred vision
  • Blood-tinged tears
  • Fever

Infected tear ducts cause excessive tearing and sometimes redness and discharge. These symptoms may worsen after a cold or sinus infection and may be more noticeable after exposure to cold, wind or sunlight.

If you experience these symptoms, see your eye doctor for treatment.

Treatment for Infected Tear Ducts

Aside from observing the typical redness, swelling and excess tearing present with infected tear ducts, an eye doctor can run other tests to pinpoint the issue. These include pressing near the sinus area for discharge through the tear ducts, as well as dye tests, where colored fluid is run through the tear ducts to see if they are clear.

In most cases, oral antibiotics are the treatment of choice for infected tear ducts. They are fast and effective, usually clearing the infection up in a matter of days. In some cases where infections don’t respond to antibiotics, surgery may be recommended to clear the tear ducts of any blockage or repair ducts that may be too narrow.