Tear ducts help in keeping our eyes well lubricated and safe from conditions such as dry eyes, infections, etc. However, some times, tear ducts can get blocked for a variety of reasons and need to be unblocked to keep the eyes safe. Here are some methods by which you can unblock your tear ducts.
Causes of blocked tear ducts. Blocked tear ducts are scientifically termed as "dacryostenosis", the condition occurs frequently in newborns and younger children and sometimes adults as well. Tear ducts help in facilitating the movement and drainage of tears from the eyes to the nose. These can get blocked on account of infections, damage from accidents or occur blocked from birth itself.
Symptoms of blocked tear ducts. Warning symptoms of blocked tear ducts will show up as:
- Excessive tearing of the eyes
- Mild fevers
- A thick pus-like discharge of mucus, which in normal conditions would get drained into the nose
- Inflammation and redness of the area in the inner corner of the eye, manifested by a swollen lower eyelid, which is painful to touch
Diagnosis for blocked ducts. If the symptoms described in the previous step occur among infants or young children, it is recommended that you immediately visit a pediatrician or an eye doctor for a check-up. About 90% of blocked tear duct cases are temporary and may disappear over a period of time on their own. However, the 10% of cases which are acute are liable to cause permanent damage to our eyesight, if not immediately treated. Physicians, whether for children or adults, can diagnose blocked tear ducts in the following ways:
- Pressing down on the area near the lower eyelids along the inner corners of the eyes, releasing tears, pus and mucus - in any or all combinations
- Dye disappearance test - Fluorescent yellow dye is applied at the inner corner of the eyes. If the tear ducts function normally, the dye will mingle with the natural tears and disappear over a period of 5-10 minutes. Next, a cotton swab is inserted into the nose to check for the appearance of the dye. If some amount of dye has drained into the nose, it means the blockage is only temporary and can be treated immediately. If the dye remains without being drained, it would mean that the tear ducts are completely blocked and more vigorous treatment may be required
Treatment. Blocked tear ducts can be opened with simple or advanced treatments based on the severity of the condition. Simple treatments include:
- Press the area between the bridge of the nose and the inner corners of the eyes with your thumb and forefinger. This will stimulate the tear sac, allowing the tear ducts to be flooded and the blockage removed.
- Apply warm compresses over the eyes for about 10-15 minutes, pressing gently on the area between the nose and the eye. Repeat this process every 2-3 hours, until the excessive tearing or the swelling of the inner corners has gone down.
Acute cases of blocked tear ducts can be treated with the following advanced treatments:
- A prescribed dose of antibiotics taken orally or specific eye ointments or drops as prescribed by a doctor, helps in getting rid of the bacteria causing the infection. In some cases, in addition to the antibiotics, the doctor can also prescribe specific eye ointments or drops. Never use any over-the-counter (OTC) medicines or drops to treat blocked tear ducts; you may end up causing more harm than good.
Surgery. If all the above-mentioned treatments have failed, your doctor may recommend some minor surgical procedures to clear up the blocked ducts. This is usually more in the case of adults than children, since blocked ducts automatically grow and open up as the infant keeps growing. Surgical procedures which could be used to unblock the tear ducts are:
- Passing a thin wire through the inner corners of the eyes to the tear ducts to push any debris or blockage which is preventing from tears and mucus being drained to the nose
- Surgically broadening the narrow or blocked duct, involving the removal of excessive bone growth, responsible for the blockage or narrowing of the tear ducts
- Surgical partial or complete removal of the lachrymal sac - an organ which stores tears created by the lachrymal gland
It is important to immediately address the problem of blocked tear ducts, once diagnosed. Left untreated, blocked tear ducts will cause much damage to your eyes, which could also result in loss of vision. It is better to keep the tear ducts stimulated as discussed in the step detailing treatment in order to avoid more severe and chronic incidents.