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Blocked Tear Ducts: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatments

Blocked Tear Ducts: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatments

Tears are more than just an indication that we’re experiencing intense emotions. They’re also extremely important in the overall functioning of the eyes. Tears help to moisturise and lubricate our eyes to keep them healthy and prevent them from getting dry. They’re also useful for flushing away irritants, and contain enzymes and antibodies to protect the eye from infections.

As tears accumulate during the day, they are drained via small openings in the corner of the eye and eventually exit via the nasal cavity. An obstruction along this path can cause a blocked tear duct which can cause a number of uncomfortable symptoms and potentially lead to serious complications. 

Here’s a quick rundown on blocked tear ducts, the symptoms experienced, causes, and treatment methods.

The most common and noticeable symptom of a blocked tear duct is excessive tearing. While this may seem counterintuitive, a blocked tear duct means that tears are unable to drain properly which can lead to an overflow of tears.

Some other symptoms to watch out for include eye irritation, redness, and swelling. You may also notice mucus discharge or crusting around the eyes, as well as recurring eye infections and blurred vision. If you experience any of these symptoms, you should visit an eye specialist for a proper diagnosis of your condition.

Causes

The causes of a blocked tear duct vary. Infants are often born with blocked tear ducts due to their tear drainage system not being fully developed. While blocked tear ducts in infants usually resolve on their own, blocked tear ducts in adults may potentially be more serious.

As we get older, the openings in the corner of our eyes that drain tears tend to become narrower. This is a common source of tear duct blockage. Other causes include infections, inflammations, trauma, or injury which can all interfere with the drainage paths of tears to cause issues. 

Nose tumours, or tumours anywhere in the drainage system, can also sometimes lead to blocked tear ducts. Finally, structural abnormalities, reactions to medications, and side effects of treatments are some other causes of blocked tear ducts.

Diagnosis of a blocked tear duct should only be done during a consultation with a trained eye specialist in Singapore. Your symptoms will be examined and your eyes and tear ducts will be visually inspected.

To confirm the diagnosis of a blocked tear duct, your doctor may also perform additional tests, such as a tear drainage test or an irrigation test. In some cases, simply performing an irrigation test might be able to treat the condition. Lastly, a diagnostic imaging test known as a dacryocystography uses a contrast medium and an X-ray procedure to identify any blockages in the tear ducts.

Treatments

For infants with blocked tear ducts, the condition is likely to improve on its own. For adults, if infection is the cause of your blocked tear ducts, then antibiotic eye drops are usually the best course of treatment. If the cause of the blockage is narrowing due to age, flushing the tear duct is often effective.

Stenting or balloon catheter dilation are two other options for patients with tear duct blockage who have not responded to other forms of treatment. These procedures are conducted under general anaesthesia and have a higher risk of complications.

Surgical options, such as a dacryocystorhinostomy (DCR) surgery, can be considered if other first-line treatments have not worked or if the blockage is severe. The surgery involves creating a new drainage pathway for tears and can be done either externally or internally with the aid of an endoscope.

While surgery is generally safe and effective for treating a blocked tear duct, it does carry some risks, such as bleeding, infection, scarring, and vision loss. It is important to discuss with your eye specialist before deciding on a course of treatment.

Learn More: Understanding DCR Surgery

With over 2 decades of clinical experience, Dr Eugene Tay is a patient-centric Ophthalmologist who offers a wide range of eye care services. Contact us today to learn more and make an appointment with us.

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