Most of your tears originate from your lacrimal glands, or tear and conjunctiva.  These glands continuously supply the fluid we call tears onto the surface of your eyes each time you blink.  Excess tears or fluid drains through the tear ducts down into the nose.  When your tear duct is either partially or completely obstructed, tears cannot drain normally resulting in a back-flow or watery eye.  Blocked tear ducts are common in newborns (congenital blocked tear duct) and usually heals without any treatment during the first year of life.  In adults, blocked tear ducts are typically caused by an obstruction and narrowing leading to infection – rarely is a tumor present

Other causes of a blocked tear duct:

  • Nose trauma
  • Age-related changes can cause the punctal openings, that drain tears, to become narrow resulting in blockage
  • Conjunctivitis – inflammation and infection of the conjunctiva
  • Tumor
  • Nasal polyps – soft, painless, noncancerous growths on the lining of your nasal passages or sinuses.
  • Abnormal development of the face and skull, also known as craniofacial abnormalities.

When a tear duct becomes blocked, your tears aren’t draining the way they should; the excessive tears become stagnant, promoting the growth of bacteria, viruses and fungi, which can lead to recurrent eye infections and inflammation with swelling.

There are several factors which may put you at a higher risk for a blocked tear duct:

  • Prior cancer treatment. Chemotherapy or radiation to treat cancer, especially if the radiation was focused on your head or face.
  • Trauma or previous surgery near tear duct system.
  • Any previous surgery to the nose, or sinus.
  • Newborns
  • Chronic eye inflammation

Your eye doctor may use several tests to diagnosis a blocked tear duct including a tear drainage test, irrigation and probing, eye imaging tests, and a physical examination of the inside of the nose to check to see the nasal passage is obstructed.

Blocked tear duct symptoms:

  • Excessive tearing
  • Blurred vision
  • Redness of the white part of the eye
  • Crusty eyelashes
  • Recurrent pink eye or eye infections
  • Eye mucus, pus, or discharge
  • Inflammation – Painful swelling near the inside corner of the eye
  • Blood-tinged tears

The good news is a blocked tear duct is almost always correctable.  However, if you experience any of the symptoms listed above for several days or your eye is repeatedly infected or continues to be infected, you need to see a doctor right away.

Treatment is administered based on the cause of the condition, and your eye doctor will determine which method of treatment is best for your particular situation.