Unblock Your Tear Ducts

Minor cases of blocked tear ducts are easy to treat at home

Elderly woman tear duct
 Getty Images/Obencem

If you're suffering from eye strain, dry eyes, or allergies, knowing how to unblock a tear duct may offer relief. Even if your tear ducts aren't blocked, keeping your eyes properly lubricated helps stave off many minor eye ailments. 

Nasolacrimal ducts—the medical term for tear ducts—are part of the body's system for draining tears from the eyes. When tear ducts become blocked, it causes a backup of fluid in the lacrimal sac, which is highly prone to infection.

 

Symptoms 

There are a few indications that you may be suffering from a blocked tear duct. If you have excessive tearing or there's a mucus or pus discharge from the eye, if the white part of your eye is red and swollen, or if your vision is blurred, a blocked tear duct may be the culprit. Recurring infections such as conjunctivitis are also signs of tear duct problems. 

While most blocked tear ducts won't require much more than the simple treatment outlined below, if you're having these symptoms for more a week or longer, or if they keep occurring, consult your medical professional. In some cases, a blocked tear duct is a symptom of a larger, more serious problem. 

Who Is at Risk?

Certain factors increase your risk of developing a blocked tear duct. If you have chronic eye inflammation, especially from conjunctivitis or other infections, it's likely to affect your tear ducts. Older women tend to be at greater risk, as are those who have had eye or sinus surgeries.

Some glaucoma medications can lead to blocked tear ducts as well. 

How They Get Blocked

Blocked tear ducts can result from a number of conditions. Some babies are born with tear duct abnormalities, most of which resolve themselves as they get older. 

An injury to the eye or nose can disrupt the tear ducts' function, and even something as small as dust or dirt stuck in the tear duct can cause problems.

In rare cases, blocked tear ducts may be caused by a tumor. In addition, tear duct blockage is sometimes a side effect of chemotherapy treatments for cancer. 

Unblocking Tear Ducts 

To unblock your tear ducts, all you'll need is some warm water and a clean washcloth or tea towel. 

  • Pinch and rub your nose underneath the bridge.
  • Place a warm, wet cloth over your eyes for 10 minutes.
  • Repeat every 4 to 6 hours, if needed.

If this treatment doesn't work and you're still having problems, it's a good idea to consult a medical professional. There are other ways to treat more serious cases of blocked tear ducts. Sometimes antibiotic drops or ointment may be sufficient, but if the problem persists, it may be necessary to irrigate the lacrimal sac, which can be done as an outpatient procedure in a doctor's office.

In cases where the blockage is severe and doesn't respond to other treatments, a surgery called dacryocystorhinostomy may be required—a type of surgery performed to create a new tear drain between your nose and your eyes.