The tear duct system drains tears and mucus from the eye into the nose. When this system does not function properly ("blocked tear duct") the tears and mucus that are normally secreted by the eye do not drain well into the nose. This may create overflow tearing, where the tears run down the cheek, and mucus collects on the eyelids and eyelashes.
Most commonly, the tear duct in infants may be blocked because the valve at the end of the tear duct (in the nose) failed to open at birth. In older children or adults, an obstruction to the drainage of the tear system may occur due to infection, inflammation or obstruction in the nasal bone.
It is estimated that 6 out of every 100 (6%) healthy, full term infants are affected by a blocked tear duct at birth.
Over 90% of infants will have symptoms that resolve within the first year of life, so frequently no treatment is necessary. If the problem does not resolve on its own by the first birthday or there are frequent infections, a procedure may need to be done to open the tear duct.
There can be secondary infections that occur when the tears do not drain properly. Normally, there are bacteria on the eyelids and eyelashes that are washed through by the flow of tears. When there is fluid that collects and pools in the tear system, the "normal" bacteria can multiply and create infection. This can cause the normal "white" appearance of mucus to appear yellow or green. Antibiotics should be used as your physician directs.
A procedure can be done to open the tear system. A "probing" is when a metal probe is passed through the tear system into the nose. This usually requires general anesthesia, as the child must be very still to allow this to be done safely, A single probing is "successful" 90% of the time. If the tearing persists after the first probing, the procedure may need to be repeated and possibly a silastic tube (or stent) left in place in the tear system. Some ophthalmologists also use a balloon catheter to dilate the tear duct at the time of the probing.
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