Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

beginning of content

Blocked tear duct

4-minute read

If you have a blocked tear duct, your tears can't drain properly. This can leave you with watery and irritated eyes. This article explains what causes a blocked tear duct, how it can be treated, and how you can prevent it from happening.

What causes a blocked tear duct?

Tears form to keep the eye moist. They usually drain away through a small opening, near the nose, on each of the upper and lower eyelids. Then they travel through a narrow tube called a tear duct before draining into the nose. This is why your nose runs when you cry.

When you have a blocked tear duct, the tears can't drain away as they should. When this happens, you get watery eyes and tears can trickle down your face.

About 1 in 20 babies are born with a blocked tear duct. The duct might not be fully developed, or it might be too narrow. This then causes a blockage.

Adults get blocked tear ducts too, often from an infection. They can be caused by injuries, and occasionally by medicines.

Illustration showing the location of the tear ducts and tear gland.
Tears from the tear gland drain along ducts near the corner of the eye.

Women who have gone through menopause might also develop blocked tear ducts.

Other things can cause watery eyes too. For example, your eyes might produce extra tears to fight irritation and dryness caused by dry eye syndrome.

Talk to your doctor if you or your child has watery, sore or irritated eyes.

Blocked tear duct symptoms

Common symptoms of a blocked tear duct include watery eyes and a sticky white or yellow discharge that can become crusty, especially after sleeping.

Sometimes a tear duct can get infected. Signs of an infection in babies include a discharge that is stickier than normal, a green discharge, swollen red eyelids, and sensitivity to light. The baby may also frequently squeeze their eyes shut.

These symptoms can occur in adults too. An infection can also cause pain and blurred vision.

See a doctor if you or your child show any symptoms of eye infection.

Blocked tear duct diagnosis

Your doctor will examine your or your child's eyes. They might then refer you to an ophthalmologist.

Tests could include using dye to see if tears drain through the tear duct or overflow. Sometimes your ophthalmologist might recommend an x-ray, or they might use a fine probe to check where the blockage is.

If you have an infection, your doctor might recommend an antibiotic.

Blocked tear duct treatment

Most babies with blocked tear ducts get better before they are one year of age. Until that happens, you can:

  • massage the area around the tear duct
  • wipe away tears and sticky discharge with a damp cloth or cotton wool

If the tear duct doesn't open properly by the time the child reaches one year of age, an ophthalmologist might use a fine probe to open up the tear duct. This is done under general anaesthetic.

In adults, treatment will depend on what is causing the blocked tear ducts. If surgery is needed, it will involve bypassing the blockage by creating a new passageway, or implanting an artificial duct so that tears can drain properly.

Preventing a blocked tear duct

Eye infections are a common cause of a blocked tear duct in adults. To reduce your risk of getting an eye infection, wash your hands regularly with soap and warm water. Try not to rub your eyes, and don't share eye cosmetics.

If you wear contact lenses, talk to your optician about the best way to use, store and clean them.

Where to get help

If you have symptoms, healthdirect's online Symptom Checker can help you decide what to do next.

Find a doctor or ophthalmologist near you with healthdirect's service finder function.

More information

Both the Raising Children Network and the Women's and Children's Health Network have information on blocked tear ducts in babies and children. They also have plenty of information on many other aspects of child health.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: March 2018

Back To Top

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Blocked tear duct: babies & toddlers | Raising Children Network

Many babies get a blocked tear duct. Symptoms include watering eyes and discharge. Blocked tear ducts mostly fix themselves, but its good to see a GP.

Read more on website

Eyes - blocked tear duct - Better Health Channel

Some babies are born with a blocked tear duct, but other events, including infection and trauma to the nose, can cause a blocked tear duct.

Read more on Better Health Channel website

Dry eyes and irritation -

Dry eye includes dry or watery eyes and eye irritation. Dry eye occurs in people who produce fewer or lower quality tears. Find out what products are available for dry eyes and eye irritation.

Read more on myDr website

Sticky eye

‘Sticky eye’ occurs when your baby's tear duct gets blocked so the eye becomes very watery and produces a discharge. It's wise to get a doctor to check it out.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

Eyes - Your babys eyes | Sydney Children's Hospitals Network

The Eye Light enters the eye through the cornea, the clear outer skin or window at the front of the eye

Read more on Sydney Children's Hospitals Network website


Conjunctivitis is an infection of the surface lining of the eye. It is very common in young children and most forms are highly contagious. Learn more here.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo