How to Unblock Your Tear Ducts

Minor cases of blocked ducts are easy to treat at home

Elderly woman tear duct
 Getty Images/Obencem

If you are suffering from eye strain, dry eyes, or allergies, knowing how to unblock a tear duct at home may offer relief. Even if your tear ducts are not 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 is 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 do not require much more than the following simple home treatment, if you have these symptoms for a week or longer or if they continue to occur, 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 is 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 stuck in the tear duct can cause problems. In rare cases, blocked tear ducts are caused by a tumor. Tear duct blockage also can be a side effect of chemotherapy treatments for cancer. 

Unblocking Tear Ducts 

To unblock your tear ducts at home, you'll need 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 does not work and you are still having problems, it is 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 does not respond to other treatments, a surgery called dacryocystorhinostomy may be required to create a new tear drain between your nose and your eyes.