Loving Baby’s Eyes
Can blocked tear ducts cause newborn eye infections?
Blocked tear ducts can definitely cause eye infections in a new baby. At least 20 percent of babies are born with one or both of their tear ducts blocked or partially blocked. The blockage can lead to conjunctivitis-like symptoms, such as white or yellow discharge, or full-blown conjunctivitis.
How to recognize these baby eye infections
If your baby’s tear ducts are blocked, you’ll probably notice the discharge about two weeks after birth, when the first real tears form. (Until that time, babies have enough tears to coat the surface of their eyes but not enough to collect and run from their eyes.)
Once your baby’s tears start to flow, they should drain into his nose through tiny ducts in the inside corners of his eyes. If the membrane that covers these ducts doesn’t break open by itself shortly after birth, or if it opens only partially, fluid backs up into the eye. There, it can easily become infected.
You may first notice that your baby’s eyes tend to be watery. If the tear duct is clogged and not infected, you may notice a little white or yellow discharge in the eyes. The discharge may crust over during sleep and even seal the eyelid shut.
Once your baby’s eyes become infected, you’ll see lots of yellow or green discharge that continues throughout the day.
How to treat a blocked tear duct in your baby
First, have a doctor look at your baby’s eyes.
If it looks like there’s an infection, drops or an ointment will probably be prescribed to clear it up. The doctor may also recommend that you try to unblock your infant’s tear ducts by carefully massaging the skin near the corner of the eye next to the nose.
Putting gentle, upward pressure on this area repeatedly throughout the day can help pop open the membrane, leaving the duct clear. Lukewarm compresses may also help.
Until the duct opens fully, you’ll need to clean the discharge from your baby’s eyes regularly. Dip a cotton ball in plain warm water or saline solution (sold at drugstores) and gently wipe the eye from the inside corner out. Use a fresh cotton ball for every wipe.
A few drops of breast milk (if you’re breastfeeding) several times a day may help clear the discharge and prevent infections, too
Blocked tear ducts in babies 6 months and older
If a duct remains clogged after your baby is 6 months old, your doctor may suggest a simple outpatient surgery to clear it, or suggest waiting until your baby is at least a year old.
Once a duct has opened – by itself or with help – it should remain open and not cause any more trouble.