Blocked Tear Duct (Dacryostenosis) in Children

January 16, 2018

A blocked tear duct is called dacryostenosis. It may also be called a congenital lacrimal duct obstruction. Congenital means that your baby is born with it.

Tears help clean and lubricate your baby’s eyes. They’re made in the lacrimal gland. This is located under the bone of the eyebrow. Tears from the lacrimal gland go into the eye through tiny ducts along the eyelid. Tears drain through 2 small openings at the inner corner of the eyelids. They then drain into a larger passage from the eye to the inside of the nose. This is called the tear (nasolacrimal) duct.

In some babies, the openings into the tear duct don’t form the right way. This causes a blockage. The tears have no place to drain.

A blocked tear duct can happen in one or both eyes. The blockage may be there at all times. Or it may come and go.

Babies don’t make tears until they are several weeks old. So you or your baby’s healthcare provider may not notice a blocked tear duct at birth.

Symptoms can happen a bit differently in each child. They can include:

  • Tears pooling in the corner of your baby's eye
  • Tears draining down your baby's eyelid and cheek
  • Mucus or yellowish discharge in your baby’s eye
  • Reddening of the skin around your baby’s eye. This is caused by rubbing.

Your baby may only have symptoms when he or she cries. Symptoms may only show up in cold or windy weather when tears are stimulated.

The symptoms of this health problem may be like symptoms of other conditions. Make sure your child sees his or her healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

Your child’s healthcare provider may diagnose a blocked tear duct by giving your child an exam. He or she will also ask you about your child’s health history. Your child may need more tests to confirm the diagnosis.

Treatment will depend on your child’s symptoms, age, and general health. It will also depend on how severe the condition is.

The most common treatment for a blocked tear duct is gently milking or massaging the tear duct 2 to 3 times a day. Your child's healthcare provider will show you how to do this.

Sometimes a blocked tear duct may cause an eye infection. If this happens, your child may need antibiotics.

Most blocked tear ducts heal on their own. This often happens by the time your child is 1 year old.

If the duct is still blocked after your child is 1 year old, he or she may need treatment. Your child’s healthcare provider may enlarge the tear duct opening with a small probe. Sometimes this test needs to be done again. If this doesn’t work, your child may need surgery to fix the duct.

Some babies are born with a blocked tear duct. Your baby needs tears to clean and lubricate the eye.

  • Babies don’t make tears until they are several weeks old. Most blocked tear ducts aren’t spotted at birth
  • A blocked tear duct may be noticed only when a baby cries. It may also show up in cold or windy weather, when tears are stimulated.
  • The most common treatment is gently milking or massaging the tear duct 2 to 3 times per day.
  • Most blocked tear ducts heal on their own. This often happens by the time your child is 1 year old.

Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your child’s healthcare provider:

  • Know the reason for the visit and what you want to happen.
  • Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.
  • At the visit, write down the name of a new diagnosis, and any new medicines, treatments, or tests. Also write down any new instructions your provider gives you for your child.
  • Know why a new medicine or treatment is prescribed and how it will help your child. Also know what the side effects are.
  • Ask if your child’s condition can be treated in other ways.
  • Know why a test or procedure is recommended and what the results could mean.
  • Know what to expect if your child does not take the medicine or have the test or procedure.
  • If your child has a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose for that visit.
  • Know how you can contact your child’s provider after office hours. This is important if your child becomes ill and you have questions or need advice.


January 16, 2018


Congenital nasolacrimal duct obstruction (dacryostenosis) and dacryocystocele. UpToDate

Reviewed By:  

Griggs, Paul B., MD,Taylor, Wanda, RN, Ph.D.