Gooey Eyed Baby: Caring for Infant Clogged Tear Ducts

gooey eyed baby
Baby with dual clogged ducts

One in three babies under a year old suffer from clogged tear ducts awaking with goo-encrusted lashes that continue to have goobers. Some of these babies have this condition from birth, but luckily in most cases clogged tear ducts resolve by age one. The question is then is there anything you can do to speed the clearing of a clogged tear duct?

What is a clogged dear duct?

At first I thought my baby just had very sleepy eyes, later concerned when the gunk continued I talked to my pediatrician to discover a very common newborn bane called a clogged tear duct also known as Dacrostenosis.

Clogged tear ducts are generally present at birth due to an underdeveloped drainage system in the eye. Sometimes they also occur a few months after birth as a result of membrane growth over the duct which allows tears to drain from the eye. Either way they are common, occurring in 20 percent of newborns, and easily treated, but bothersome all the same.

What’s it look like?

A clogged tear duct causes watery eyes that are often crusty or glued shut when your baby awakes. When baby is awake, you’ll probably also notice an excess of “goo” in the corner of the eye and tears when there is no crying. Slight swelling or redness from irritation  may also be present.

When to worry?

A clogged tear duct is harmless unless it becomes infected. Infection is marked by redness in the eye itself, extreme swelling, or/and a sensitivity to light. Clogged tear ducts are sometimes mistaken for pink eye and vice versa. A clogged duct will resolve itself, pink eye or an infection will not.

How can I make those beautiful baby eyes goo free?

Most pediatricians recommend keeping the eye clean, massages and warm compresses three times daily to help free infant tear duct clogs.

To massage your baby’s tear duct be sure to wash your hands first as infection is a risk. Place your finger at the corner of the eye by the nose and gently but firmly make small circles. Sometimes this process will push more goo from the eye. I found the easiest time is either during diaper changes or feedings. (Feedings for the grabby-squirmy baby)

A warm compress is simply a clean rag warmed to a safe temperature and then held to the eye for a minute or two. Generally, the warm compress should precede the massage to help loosen the blockage before you massage it. A warm rag is also best to remove dried caked on goobers. Be sure to dry the skin when you are finished, as babies have very sensitive skin and the added moisture can cause itchy rashes or eczema flare ups.

Some, but not all, pediatricians also suggest placing a small amount of breast milk in the eye during massage. Others argue the sugar and fat in breast milk creates a breeding ground for bacteria, however breast milk contains bacteria-fighting antibodies and has been proven to help cure pink eye.  To me, at least, this suggests that it would prevent infection in clogged tear ducts not create it, which is the intent of the recommendation. Breast milk is also a fabulous lubricant for those now irritated baby eyes.

What if my baby’s tear duct doesn’t open on its own?

There is a small procedure that generally is not preformed before a year old (because 95 percent of cases clear up on there own before this point). Under brief anesthesia a small wire is inserted into the tear duct to push the clog through. 90 percent of the time this procedure clears up the problem. In the rare case it does not, tubes can be surgically inserted to hold eye drainage paths open.

By nearly six months old my baby still had a clogged tear duct, but the massages did reduced the goo and irritation. It didn’t clear up entire until he was about 8 months. Be sure to let your baby’s doctor know if your infant has a clogged tear duct, as well as if it doesn’t go away.

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