Tear System Diseases

What Are Tear Drainage System Diseases?

Tear drainage system diseases are conditions that typically involve the blockage of a tear duct. When the tear system is functioning normally, the lacrimal gland that sits just above the outer corner of the eye produces the majority of tears, which are then distributed across the front of the eye by the eyelids and drain into tiny holes (puncta) in the inner corner of the upper and lower eyelids. From there, the tears travel into tiny canals – tear ducts – and down into the nose, where they are either absorbed, discharged, or evaporated.

When these tear ducts are obstructed, they prevent proper drainage, which can irritate the eye and cause it to remain overly watery on a consistent basis. Additionally, a blocked tear duct can cause a sudden, painful infection of the tear sac called dacryocystitis which requires urgent attention.

Blocked tear ducts are almost always correctable, with treatment options dependent on the cause of the blockage and the age of the patient.

Symptoms of Tear Drainage System Diseases

Signs and symptoms of a blocked tear duct include:


  • Excessive tearing
  • Redness
  • Eye infections or inflammation
  • Pain and swelling near the inner corners of the eye
  • Crusts around the eyelids
  • Discharge on the eye and around the eyelids
  • Blurry vision

What Causes Tear Drainage System Diseases?

Blocked tear ducts are common with newborns, with the condition usually improving without any treatment during their first 12 months of life. Adults can suffer from blocked tear ducts due to aging, injury, infections, or a tumor. In some cases, eye drops used for treating glaucoma and certain cancer treatments may create tear duct issues as well.


To diagnose your condition, your doctor will discuss your particular symptoms, examine your eyes, and possibly your nose if needed. This may be followed by irrigation of the tear drainage system.

What Are the Treatment Options for Tear Drainage System Diseases?

Treatment for tear system diseases depends on the actual cause of the blockage. Some patients may require a combination of approaches to correct the tear ducts.

If a tumor is the cause of the blockage, surgery may be required to remove it, or your ophthalmologist may recommend treatments to shrink the tumor. When infections are found to be the cause, medications in the form of eye drops or pills may be prescribed.

If a tear duct is blocked due to an injury, your doctor may first suggest allowing the injury to heal and any swelling to subside, as this will often allow the tear duct to function normally again.

Dilation, flushing, and probing of the tear duct are typically outpatient procedures that can provide anywhere from temporary relief to a full correcting of tear system issues. For infants with blocked tear ducts, the parents may be taught a simple massage technique that will encourage the ducts to open and function as they should.

In some cases, lacrimal surgery may be required. Procedures range from dilation of the native system, placement of a dilating stent, or possibly making an opening in the bone that separates the lacrimal sac from the nasal cavity to bypass the obstruction.

Tear System Disease Treatment at Dean McGee Eye Institute

Ignoring tear duct issues can lead to discomfort and a number of eye complications that will likely worsen over time. If you or a loved one is experiencing problems with the tear system, the expert team of oculoplastic surgeons at the Dean McGee Eye Institute can help! Call 405.271.1096 or 800.787.9018 today to make an appointment. We are here for you.