Your child probably has a blocked tear duct on that side. This means that the channel that normally carries tears from the eye to the nose is blocked. Although the obstruction is present at birth, the delay in onset of symptoms can be explained by the occasional delay in tear production until the age of 3 or 4 weeks in some babies. Both sides are blocked 30% of the time.
This is a common condition, affecting 6% of newborns. Over 90% of blocked tear ducts open up spontaneously by the time the child is 12 months of age. If the obstruction persists beyond 12 months of age, an ophthalmologist (eye specialist) can open it with a probe.
Because of poor drainage, eyes with blocked tear ducts become easily infected. The infected eye produces a yellow discharge. To keep the eye free of infection, massage the lacrimal sac (where tears collect) twice daily. Always wash your hands carefully before doing this. The lacrimal sac is located in the inner lower corner of the eye. This sac should be massaged to empty it of old fluids and to check for infection. Start at the inner corner of the eye and press upward using a cotton swab. (CAUTION: Massaging downward is not helpful and may lead to infection.) If the eye becomes infected, it is very important to begin antibiotic eye drops.
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Instructions for Pediatric Patients, 2nd Edition, ©1999 by WB Saunders Company.
Written by Barton D. Schmitt, MD, pediatrician and author of Your Child’s Health, Bantam Books, a book for parents.