A blocked tear duct occurs when your nasal passageways cannot properly drain tear liquid from your eyes. You may have itchy, irritated or watery eyes. Sometimes, babies are born with blocked tear ducts. A clogged tear duct may heal on its own, or you may need surgery. With treatment, most people experience total symptom relief.
The tears that moisturize your eye drain through a tiny opening in the corner of your eye. The liquid enters your nose, where your body absorbs and disposes of it.
A blocked tear duct is a full or partial obstruction (blockage) in the nasal (nose) passageways that drain tears. If you have a blocked tear duct, your eyes may be itchy, irritated and watery. Another name for a blocked tear duct is nasolacrimal duct obstruction. Lacrimal refers to tears.
Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy
Typically, your tear system keeps your eyes slightly wet but not too watery. Your tear system has three parts:
Tear ducts are another name for the nasolacrimal ducts. They form at the corner of your eye nearest your nose. They run underneath the skin and connect to your facial bones and nose.
When you have a clogged tear duct, tears can’t drain into the nose through the nasolacrimal ducts. Instead, your tears stay in your eye. The result is uncomfortable, watery eyes.
Sometimes, a narrow tear duct (dacryostenosis) can lead to a partial tear duct blockage. When you have a partial blockage, your tears may build up and not drain properly. This tear buildup can lead to infection. If you have a partial blockage, your provider will likely use similar treatments as a full blockage.
Blocked tear ducts are common in newborns. Usually, a blocked tear duct in a baby goes away without treatment.
Adults are more likely to develop a tear duct blockage if they have:
Blocked tear ducts can happen to anyone of any age. Causes of blocked tear ducts include:
The most common sign of a blocked tear duct is watery eyes or excessive tearing. You may also experience:
Babies don’t start making tears until they are a few weeks old. You may not notice a blocked tear duct in a newborn right away. As babies get older, blocked tear duct symptoms might include:
To diagnose a blocked tear duct, your healthcare provider asks about your symptoms. Your provider may also use tests that examine the eyes and nose, including:
Blocked tear duct treatment depends on the cause. For example, if you have a tumor, your treatment focuses on removing or shrinking the tumor.
Additional treatment options may include:
If less-invasive options don’t bring relief, your provider may recommend surgery. Providers usually use dacryocystorhinostomy (DCR). This procedure creates a new route to drain tears into your nose.
On the day of surgery, you receive anesthesia to help you stay calm and numb during the operation. During the procedure, your surgeon:
A dacryocystorhinostomy is usually an outpatient surgery, meaning you can go home the same day. Typically, your surgeon removes the stents after three to four months.
Often, a blocked tear duct in a newborn resolves without treatment. In the first few months of life, the baby’s tear ducts may mature and get rid of the blockage.
Sometimes, a baby still has a small piece of tissue blocking the flow of tears inside the nose. Your baby’s provider may teach you a special eyelid massage technique. This massage helps open the tissue so tears can drain as they should.
If a watch-and-wait approach does not work, providers may use dilation and flushing, balloon catheters or stents. These treatments work the same way in babies as they do in adults. However, providers use general anesthesia to keep babies still and calm during the procedure.
The best way to avoid a blocked tear duct is to get care right away for eye problems, such as inflammation, infection or injury. To prevent eye inflammation or infections:
If the blocked tear duct is because of an injury, it usually clears up on its own once the injury heals. Blocked tear ducts in babies often open up in time or with home care.
People who receive blocked tear duct treatment typically have an excellent outlook. In particular, dacryocystorhinostomy has around a 90% success rate. Most people don’t have any further symptoms after treatment.
You may also want to ask your healthcare provider:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Blocked tear ducts occur when your nasolacrimal passages cannot drain tears as they should. If you have a blocked tear duct, you may have watery, irritated eyes. Some newborns have blocked tear ducts that often heal without treatment. In adults, treatment may include flushing out the tear duct or surgery. Treatment completely relieves symptoms for most people.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 05/27/2021.
Learn more about our editorial process.