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Blocked tear ducts in babies

Some newborn babies experience a blocked tear duct in one or both eyes, causing tears to build up on the outside of their eyes.  

The duct can become blocked because it hasn’t had time to develop fully yet. Very rarely, eye or eyelid problems can cause the tear duct to become blocked. Speak to a health professional if you have concerns about the appearance of your baby’s eyes or eyelids. 

A blocked tear duct should resolve once the tear ducts are fully developed, which can take up to a few weeks after birth. Occasionally, this can take a few months or longer. If a blocked duct is causing your baby discomfort or taking a long time to heal, speak to your health visitor or GP. 

You should speak to a GP if your baby’s eye is red or inflamed, or if they appear to be sensitive to light. 

Symptoms of blocked tear ducts

If your baby’s eye or eyes become watery when they aren’t crying, with tears building up in the corner of their eye and running down their cheek, this can indicate a blocked duct. Watery eyes might be worse in cold weather. 

Sticky eyes due to a blocked tear duct can also be common, and the discharge can be washed away with cool water that has previously been boiled and cotton wool for twice a day maximum. However, if your baby’s eyes are red and sticky you should seek medical advice. 

It can take a week or two after birth for your baby to be able to produce tears, so you might not notice blocked tear ducts at first. 

Complications of blocked tear ducts 

Blocked tear ducts are common, they are not serious and will usually resolve without treatment after a few weeks.  

However, if your baby develops conjunctivitis, causing the eye to look inflamed and red, speak to a GP.  

An infection in the tear sac may also occur, causing redness and swelling between the inner corner of the eye and the nose, this requires treatment from a GP too. 

Page last reviewed: 23-01-2024

Next review due: 23-01-2027