What happens if a blocked tear duct goes untreated?

Blocked Tear Ducts - All About Vision
What is a tear duct?

The tear duct or nasolacrimal duct is part of the system that helps tears flow out of your eyes. It goes through the nasal bone and into the back of the nose to drain tears. Normally, your tear system is not only for crying purposes, it is also important as a lubricant.

Tears come from three parts of your body:

–        The lacrimal glands inside the upper lids above each eye make tears.

–        Puncta are small holes at the corner of your eye where tears come out.

–        Nasolacrimal ducts, similar to drainage pipes; connect to the puncta and drain all of your tear fluid into the nose.

–        The tears are reabsorbed once they enter the nose.

Why is the tear duct blocked?

A baby can be born with a blocked tear duct (a congenital blocked tear duct) but the condition can resolve on its own within four to six months. The tear drainage system may not be fully developed, or there may be a problem with the duct that drains the tears. In adults, a blocked tear duct can be caused by an eye infection, swelling, an injury, or a tumor. If you get hurt on your face, you may have bone damage or scarring near the drainage system. This can stop tears from flowing through the drainage ducts as they usually do. Dirt or loose skin cells can get stuck in the duct and cause it to become blocked. Sometimes, a narrow tear duct (dacryostenosis) can cause part of the tear duct to become blocked. When you have a partial blockage, your tears may not flow freely and build up. The long-term accumulated tears may cause you to be more prone to eye or sinus infection. In these conditions, you may notice watery, redness or swelling of the eyes, discomfort or irritation and blurred vision.

Possible treatment for blocked tear duct

For babies, proper eye massage may help the condition to resolve itself. A simple way to get fluid out of your or your baby’s eyes is to rub the corners of their eyes twice a day.

If the issue persists, there are few surgical options available with a good prognosis.

  • Tear duct probing. The doctor can place a thin probe into the puncta to open the tissue covering the duct by the time he or she turns one.
  • Balloon catheter dilation. The doctor threads a catheter through the tear duct and inflates the balloon pump at the end to widen the duct.
  • Intubation. There is a small tube inserted through the tear ducts and left inside the nose for 3 to 6 months. They open up the ducts and let tears drain.
  • Surgery. Dacryocystorhinostomy is a type of surgery that can help adults who haven’t gotten better with other treatments; create a bypass for tear drainage.  Through an incision near the lacrimal sac, or with special tools that go through the nasal cavity and no scars are left.

Complications if left untreated

A clogged tear duct can nearly always be unclogged. Treatment is determined by the origin of the blockage as well as the patient’s age. People with this ailment are recommended to get treatment because it will damage their quality of life. The tears that linger in the drainage system get sluggish since they aren’t draining as they should. Bacteria, viruses, and fungus thrive in this environment, which can lead to recurrent eye infections and inflammation. Because of a clogged tear duct, any portion of the tear drainage system, including the transparent membrane over your eye surface (conjunctiva), might become infected or inflamed. The range of infection can be from dacryocystitis to periorbital and orbital cellulitis. Antibiotics may be required if this occurs.

Do health screening to seek medical attention as soon as possible.

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