Blocked Tear Duct in Children: Care Instructions

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Tears normally drain from the eye through small tubes called tear ducts, which stretch from the eye into the nose. A blocked tear duct occurs when these tubes get blocked or don't open properly. This can cause a child's eye to be teary and produce a yellowish white substance. If a tear duct remains blocked, the tear duct sac fills with fluid and may become red and swollen. Sometimes it can get infected.

In most cases, babies born with a blocked tear duct don't need treatment. The duct tends to open up on its own by the time a child is 6 months old. In the meantime, you can take care of your child at home.

If the duct doesn't open, a procedure called probing can be used to open it. If the duct gets infected, your doctor will prescribe antibiotics.

Follow-up care is a key part of your child's treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if your child is having problems. It's also a good idea to know your child's test results and keep a list of the medicines your child takes.

How can you care for your child at home?

  • Keep your child's eye clean.
    • Moisten a clean cotton ball or washcloth with warm (not hot) water, and gently wipe from the inner (near the nose) to the outer part of the eye. With each wipe, use a new or clean part of the cotton ball or washcloth.
    • If your child's eyelashes are crusty with mucus, clean them with a moist cotton ball using a gentle, downward motion. If the eyelids get stuck together, place a clean, warm, wet cotton ball over that eye for a few minutes to help loosen the crust.
    • Always wash your hands before and after you touch the eye area.
  • If your child's doctor suggests it, gently massage the area of the blockage. This can help prevent fluid buildup in the duct. Make sure that your hands are clean and your nails are short.
  • If the doctor prescribed antibiotic pills, eyedrops, or ointment for your child, give them exactly as directed. Do not stop using them just because your child's eye gets better. Your child needs to take the full course of antibiotics.
  • To put in eyedrops or ointment:
    • Tilt your child's head back, and pull the lower eyelid down with one finger.
    • Drop or squirt the medicine inside the lower lid.
    • Do not touch the ointment or dropper tip to the eyelashes or any other surface.
  • If the tearing bothers your child, try to limit their time in the wind, cold, and sunlight.

When should you call for help?

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • Your child has signs of infection, such as:
    • Increased swelling and redness in or around the eye, eyelid, or nose.
    • Pus draining from the eye.
    • A fever.

Watch closely for changes in your child's health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • The drainage from your child's eye gets worse.
  • The tear duct does not open up by the time your child is 6 months old.

Where can you learn more?

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The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.