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Pediatric Tear Duct (Nasolacrimal Duct) Anomalies
What are tear duct anomalies?
Tear duct (nasolacrimal duct) anomalies are problems with tear duct development that many babies are born with. Tear ducts are tiny tubes near the inner corner of the eyes that carry tears from the surface of the eye into the nose to drain.
Blocked tear ducts are common and many cases improve without treatment within a year. Other tear duct anomalies are more serious and cause long-term blockage and infection that can spread to the eye.
Learn more about our Ophthalmology program at Children’s National Hospital.
The main cause of tear duct anomalies is some type of obstruction, including:
- A membrane at the end of the tear duct that does not open around birth
- Missing parts of the lacrimal system, from the punctum (opening at the lid) to the canaliculus (small duct that connects to the lacrimal sac) to the tear duct itself
- Bony blockage of the tear duct
Newborns usually show symptoms of tear duct anomalies within a few weeks of birth. These include:
- Eyes that tear (water) constantly
- Red, swollen eyelids that may develop a crust
- Yellowish-green discharge
Often, your baby’s pediatrician will be able to diagnose tear duct anomalies and, if needed, will refer to an ophthalmologist for proper management.
Tear duct anomalies often clear up without surgical treatment in the first 6 to 8 months of age. When treatment is necessary, the options we recommend at Children’s National Hospital include:
- Gentle cleaning of any discharge from the eyes with a warm, wet washcloth
- Massaging of the tear ducts to help expressing the infection/discharge out
- Antibiotic eye drops or ointment to prevent or treat infection
- Surgery to open the tear ducts if the condition persists
Chief Emeritus, Ophthalmology
Our specialized pediatric ophthalmologists are experts at recognizing and treating complex eye conditions in infants and children.
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