In a normal eye, tears drain through the upper and lower lid puncta – small openings that are located on the eyelid. Tears then flow through the canaliculi to the lacrimal sac and empty into the nose. That’s why your nose runs when you cry.
A blocked tear duct, or nasolacrimal duct obstruction, can occur in both infants and adults. For adults, the most common cause of a blocked tear duct is inflammation, infection, injury and in rare cases a tumor. A blocked tear duct can also be congenital. In fact, about 20% of newborns are born with a nasolacrimal duct obstruction. For most babies, the condition resolves on its own within the first years of life. If the blockage does not resolve by the time the baby is two years old, it probably won’t resolve on its own.
When the tear duct is blocked it can cause excessive tearing, recurrent conjunctivitis (eye inflammation) or dacryocystitis (eye infection), painful swelling, mucus discharge and blurred vision. One way to confirm a blocked tear duct is through a probing and irritation (P&I) procedure. For adults, the P&I procedure can be performed in the office with little to no discomfort. For children, the procedure is best performed at a surgical center under anesthesia. Dr. Lane may use a balloon in conjuncture with the P&I procedure to permanently unblock the tear duct. If a balloon is used, the procedure is performed in a surgical setting under local or general anesthesia.