Blocked Tear Ducts
All patients do not require treatment for tear duct blockage. For instance, in a majority of babies, the obstruction will resolve as the drainage system of the child matures.
Some newborns have a piece of tissue, known as a membrane, covering the duct. However, it typically opens up by itself in the child’s first year.
But if a blocked tear duct does not resolve by itself, the eye care specialist will recommend a suitable treatment. Experienced oculoplastic surgeon Dr. Jennifer Hui provides tear duct treatments to patients in Palm Springs, Palm Desert, La Quinta, Coachella Valley, Riverside, Redlands, Yucaipa, Loma Linda, and surrounding locations.
Non-Surgical Treatment Approaches for a Blocked Tear Duct
Massaging the lacrimal sac (the site where the tears drain from the eye into the tear duct) is one of the most convenient ways to resolve blockage in infants.
This method involves taking a cotton swab or clean fingers and gently rubbing the lower eye corners of the infant’s eyes for a few seconds two times a day (in the morning and at night). This motion may lead to a clear liquid draining out of the eye corners. The massage pressure can open up the membrane covering the tear duct.
The eye surgeon may prescribe an antibiotic ointment or eye drops in some cases. While antibiotics will not open the obstruction, these could help address infection and resolve any eye discharge that may be occurring.
Tear Duct Probing
In case the child’s tear duct does not open up by itself by the time they are a year old, the doctor can perform a procedure to address the blockage. While the child sleeps, the doctor will insert a narrow probe into one or both holes that facilitate tear drainage.
This will open up the tissue covering the tear duct. This procedure does not cause any pain and usually resolves the tear duct blockage.
Balloon Catheter Dilation
The surgeon may use balloon catheter dilation if the blockage does not resolve by itself or if probing proves ineffective. While the child is sleeping, the doctor threads a narrow tube (catheter) into the tear duct. The tube comprises a balloon at its end which the doctor will inflate via a pump.
They will then deflate the balloon and inflate it again to broaden the duct. Subsequently, the doctor will remove the balloon.
If other treatments are ineffective, intubation is another alternative. This procedure involves the doctor threading a narrow tube through the holes (puncta) in the eye corners.
The tube will pass through each tear duct within the nose. The time taken for this procedure is about one hour. The tubes remain in place for three to six months to open up the tear ducts allowing drainage.
Intubation may lead to the following side effects:
- A stuffy nose but saline drops can help address the congestion
- More tearing but this should be better by the time the doctor takes the tubes out
- Change in position of the tube which the doctor can move back in place