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Tear Duct, Blocked: Brief Version

What is a blocked tear duct?

Tears from the eye normally drain into the nose through the tear duct. If this duct is blocked, the tears spill over on the cheeks, even when a baby is not crying. This happens in 10% of young babies. Most of the time, only one tear duct is blocked.

Your baby may have a blocked tear duct when:

  • One eye is always watery.
  • Tears run down the face even when your baby does not cry.
  • When your baby cries, the nostril on the blocked side is still dry.
  • The eye on the blocked side is not red, and the eyelid is not swollen.
  • The problem usually starts before your child is 1 month old.

How can I take care of my child?

Most of the time, the tear duct will open by itself. Your doctor may tell you to massage the tear duct. To do this:

  • Wash your hands.
  • Start at the inner corner of the eye.
  • Gently rub the inner, lower corner of your baby's eye with a clean cotton swab.
  • Gently press upward. A small amount of clear fluid should come out.

Your doctor can show you how to do this:

Call your doctor right away if:

  • Your baby's eyelid is very red or swollen.
  • There is a red lump at the inner lower corner of the eyelid.

Call your child's doctor during office hours if:

  • There is yellow discharge from your baby's eye.
  • Your child is more than 1 year old.
  • You have other questions or concerns.
Written by Barton D. Schmitt, MD, author of “My Child Is Sick,” American Academy of Pediatrics Books.
Pediatric Advisor 2015.3 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2012-09-17
Last reviewed: 2015-06-11
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 Barton D. Schmitt, MD FAAP. All rights reserved.
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