When tear ducts are blocked, trapped bacteria in the nasolacrimal sac can lead to infection (called dacryocystitis). Symptoms of infection include:
- Inflammation (swelling), tenderness and redness of the inside corner of the eye or around the eye and nose
- Recurrent eye infections
- Eye mucus discharge
- Crusty eyelashes
- Blurred vision
- Blood-tinged tears
Tests to diagnose:
A blocked tear duct is diagnosed using a number of tests, including:
- Physical examination – including medical history
- Ophthalmic examination – to check for other possible causes
- Particular tests to check for tear drainage – for example, a special fluid is flushed into the affected tear duct opening. A diagnosis of blocked tear duct is made if the patient can’t taste the fluid in their throat
- X-ray or CT scan – taken of the tear duct area (dacryocystogram).
- Antibiotics that can be taken by mouth are the standard treatment for tear duct infection. Antibiotics clear up acute infections quickly and can ease symptoms of chronic infections. Most cases of acute tear duct infection clear up quickly with treatment. In some cases, antibiotic ointment or eye drops may be prescribed. Do not attempt to apply an over-the-counter antibiotic ointment to the eye or the area around the eye, since over-the-counter ointments are not made for use in the eye and could have irritating ingredients.
- If the infection does not respond to antibiotics, or if infections keep returning, minor surgery may be needed. There are several types of surgical treatments for tear duct infections:
- Surgical probing of the tear duct, in which a thin wire is guided through the tear duct to clear out any blockage. This is the most common treatment for recurring infections in infants.
- A procedure called dacryocystorhinostomy, in which the narrowed or blocked duct is expanded. This usually requires removal of bone that has caused the duct's narrowing. This surgery commonly is done with the aid of a laser.
- Removing all or part of the lacrimal sac