Blocked tear duct
What is a blocked tear duct?
A blocked tear duct is an eye disorder that occurs when the duct through which tears normally drain (which runs from the lacrimal sac of the eye into the nasal cavity) becomes fully or partially blocked for different reasons. This means that the tears are unable to drain properly and are accumulated on the eye’s surface.
This is generally not a serious disorder, but it is extremely bothersome and can irritate the eye, as well as increasing the risk of inflammatory processes and recurrent infection, due to the spread of bacteria in the blocked duct. You must in all cases consult an ophthalmologist, because tumours located in areas near the nose can cause blocked tear ducts and be a severe cause behind this problem.
Tears are produced in the lacrimal gland below the eyebrow, from where they are carried to the eye to bathe and lubricate it. They then reach the nose through the lacrimal points that are on the inner edge of the eye. When tear ducts become blocked, this leads to excessive, constant tearing, with tears flowing because their “drainage” is not working.
This watery eye is sometimes accompanied by conjunctivitis. Blocked tear ducts can also lead to painful inflammation of the inner corner of the eye, and can encourage secretion (rheum) on the eyelids and on the surface of the eye, which can also cause blurred vision.
This alteration is quite commonplace, especially in women, and can arise at any age. In fact, a congenital blocked tear duct exists that can affect babies from birth.
Should this problem arise in youngsters, the presence of a tumour should be ruled out, as blocked tear ducts are most frequent in children and the over-50s. In adults, the disease can occur for different reasons, such as repeat conjunctivitis, recurrent rhinitis, nasal surgeries, the chronic use of eye drops with certain preservatives, chemotherapy, hormone changes, trauma, scarring, age-associated narrowing of the tear duct, etc.
In terms of avoidable causes, the best way to prevent a blocked tear duct and its complications is to increase hand hygiene, make sure you do not rub your eyes, strictly follow contact lens maintenance and handling guidelines, make sure cosmetics that come into contact with this part of your face are in good condition, always remove make up at the end of the day, and generally try to keep the area around the eye clean at all times.
In the case of babies, a blocked tear duct (present in 1 of every 5 newborns) often clear up by itself within the first year of life. Should this not be the case and the problem persists, we normally perform a tear duct exploration at around 9 months of age. In adults, the most frequent technique involves a dacryocystorhinostomy.