Babies That Have a Blocked Tear Duct
While they do not cause any serious and lasting eye problems, your baby can still get it so it is good to be informed about what are the symptoms of a blocked tear duct, what causes them to be blocked in the first place and what could you do about them.
Our eyes have small tubes called tear ducts and as the name suggests, they are the tubes from where our tears drain. These tubes or ducts stretch from our eyes all the way into our nose. Naturally, when a tear duct gets blocked, our tears are not able to be drained from our eyes properly.
While these tear ducts can be blocked at any age, they mostly happen in babies. On an average, out of a 100 newborns 6 of them get their tear ducts blocked. They mostly clear up on their own and do not have any serious effects on the baby’s vision.
Symptoms and causes:
Excessive tearing from where the eyes just look a bit wet or there are actual tears running down the baby’s cheek, the white part of the eye getting extra red, eye infections or inflammations that keep on recurring, crusty eyelids, mucus or pus being discharged from the lids are all symptoms of a tear duct being blocked in a baby.
If babies do have blocked tear ducts, they start showing these symptoms quite early; anywhere from between their very first few days to their first few weeks. These symptoms may turn worse if the baby catches a cold. Sunlight and wind have also been identified as factors which may also worsen these symptoms.
If you see your baby showing any of these symptoms and you suspect that they might have a blocked tear duct, you can schedule a physical exam with their pediatrician who can then find out more if these ducts are actually blocked and what is causing them or that there may be something else.
There are several causes for why a baby may have a blocked tear duct. One of the most common reasons is that there is a thin tissue at the end of the tear duct, if this tissue is not able to open normally it can result in a blocked tear duct.
Some babies may have an abnormally big nasal bone which can exert extra pressure on the tear duct and prevent it from opening. Our eyes have openings in their corners which allow our tears to drain into the tear ducts. In some babies, these openings are either closed or underdeveloped which can also be a reason for their blocked tear ducts.
Hereditary factors may also play a role; if blocked tear ducts is something which runs in the family that increases the chances of the baby having them as well.
Blocked tear ducts have a way of clearing up on their own so really they do not need any treatment per se. However, there are a few things that you could do to prevent infections which might make the blockage worse.
Use moist cotton balls or a washcloth dipped in warm water to keep your baby’s eyes clean. The correct way of cleaning the eyes is to gently wipe starting from the inner corner and moving to the outer corner of the eye.
Massaging may also be beneficial in treating a blocked tear duct. You need to gently exert some pressure with just one finger on the outside of the baby’s nose and then stroke your finger downwards where the corner of the nose is. Doing this at least 10 times a day can help in clearing any tears which are now pooled in into the duct because it is blocked.
If your baby does have a blocked tear duct then make sure that he/she does not spend too much time outside in the sunlight and try to keep them away from wind as well. Also, whenever you touch their eye area, make sure that your hands are clean and not caring any germs which may cause an infection to grow in that area.
While most ducts clear on their own some may not and in such cases a probing procedure may be done. 80 out of a 100 babies who get this procedure done successfully get their ducts cleared. In very rare cases, when a blocked duct does not open even after a probing procedure, the baby may be scheduled for a more complicated surgery.
Breast milk as a treatment method:
Breast milk since it is packed with antibodies is not only good for the baby to drink, it can be used to treat minor wounds, diaper rash, eye infections and clogged ducts.
Many mothers believe that putting two to three drops of breast milk into a baby’s eyes actually helps unclogging the blocked tear ducts. They put some breast milk into the eyes, massage it gently and that does the job.
The babies make their own antibodies too and they get some injected into their bodies via vaccines, but the breast milk from the mother also contains infection-fighting molecules which when are applied to an infected area, prevents the germs from the environment to invade further.
When to visit the doctor?
If the blocked tear duct does not clear up on its own, the baby should be taken to a doctor who is then going to recommend either an ointment or some antibiotic drops to help with the problem.
If even eye drops and ointments do not work, the baby may be requiring a tear duct surgery. There are three types of surgery methods available for unclogging a blocked tear duct: probing and irrigating, silicone tube insertion and dacryocystorhinostomy.
After considering your baby’s age and the seriousness of his blocked tear duct, your doctor will guide you as to which surgery method is best suitable for your baby.
After getting the surgery done, the baby may experience some pain and discomfort. This does not last that long though.